Camera Gallery 2012

It’s been quite a year for digital cinema cameras. We’ve seen new models of all sizes and form factors, from the hugest to the smallest, from still cameras that take amazing-looking video to video cameras that also shoot high-resolution stills. Here are some of the new and improved cameras of 2012.

Apple’s Knowledge Navigator (in 1987) Foreshadowed Our Current Tech Toys

The professor enters his wood-paneled office to the sound of a harpsichord concerto.

He walks to his desk and opens a strange-looking, hinged device, which bongs like a Macintosh. It’s about the size of a laptop, but it opens like a book, revealing two screens.

“You have three messages,” says a face on the device. “Your graduate team in Guatemala, a second-semester junior, and your mother reminding you about your father’s …”

“… Surprise birthday party tomorrow,” says the professor, cutting off his digital butler with the touch of a finger on the screen. Clearly he’s been reminded before.

Writing Projects: Hurricane Sandy / Trip to Taipei

Wearing my writer’s hat, I’ve recently cranked out two articles for The Kenwood Group about some of their projects, published on their Varney’s Place blog.

Into the Storm: Producing a Movie Marathon in the Face of a Hurricane

Imagine planning a live event long in advance, only to have the storm of the century threaten to shut you down.

On a recent project for NVIDIA, Kenwood managed to pull off a production just before Superstorm Sandy hit New York, but completing the project proved difficult in the aftermath.

The plan: producing the Rooftop Films Indie Horror Movie Marathon in Brooklyn, with scary flicks and features on several HD projectors, and a live band playing heavy metal.

Temple Beautiful—Part II of Chuck Prophet’s Musical Tour of San Francisco

San Francisco rock musician Chuck Prophet has released a new video—Part II of a musical tour of San Francisco, named for his newest album, “Temple Beautiful.”

After recording his last album in Mexico City, says Chuck, “I was looking to make a record closer to home.”

Part I of Chuck’s Temple Beautiful video tour was released in February. In Part II we visit Chuck’s home and studio and many of his old haunts in the Mission and North Beach.

The Cloud: Thousands of Overheated, Polluting, Power-Hungry Data Centers

Go ahead, buy it.

Add to Cart. Proceed to Checkout. Enter Payment Info. Place Order.

A nice, clean transaction in cyberspace, right? No need to consume fossil fuels driving to an actual store, which in turn must be electrified, heated, and stocked with not-quite-right products and pesky salespeople trying to sell warranties. Besides the costs and byproducts of the delivery process, the online transaction seems pretty innocent, environmentally speaking. Right?

But the data from your purchase, the store’s inventory control, the product shipping, and each confirming email, are all stored somewhere in “the cloud.” Despite the ethereal name, the ever-growing cloud consists of massive numbers of computer servers in tens of thousands of data centers around the country and around the world, all sucking massive amounts of power, absorbing numerous citations for air pollution, and searching for more efficient cooling.

Shooting Giants: Photographing Baseball from the Diamond’s Edge

I’ve got the best view in the house.

I’m poised on a folding chair in a photographer’s dugout just below ground level, at the edge of the diamond at AT&T Park in San Francisco. It’s the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Giants are losing to the San Diego Padres 6-3.

My camera is less than two feet above field level. As I look straight out through protective netting, I am focusing on Giants infielder Joaquin Arias at the plate, no more than 50 feet in front of me. A right-handed batter, Arias faces away from my vantage point on the third-base side of the field, but I can clearly see his body language throughout the at-bat and see his face during his follow-through.

Studying Spielberg: McBride’s Biography is Memorable … and Unauthorized

Imagine deciding to write a biography on someone you had met twice, a contemporary who worked in the same industry and lived in the same state, only to learn, several months into your research, that your subject has declined your request for an interview and asked his close associates and family to do the same.

This is the backstory for Steven Spielberg: A Biography by Joseph McBride. Undeterred by Spielberg’s lack of cooperation, McBride soldiered on. No slacker, over the next three years he interviewed 327 other people for this book, including many of Spielberg’s cohorts and relatives.

The result is a marvelous work, an unauthorized biography overflowing with McBride’s voluminous research, crisp critical thinking, and an easy, engaging writing style that refreshes like a clear mountain stream.

My TEDx Talk: Problem-Solving and Adaptation in a Digital World

Recently I was honored to give a TEDx Talk on creative problem-solving.

Using examples from three different film projects, I talked about thinking on your feet, adapting to change, and improvising solutions—valuable skills in any era, especially our digital age. It’s not just about mastering the gear, I tell my students. It’s about releasing your creativity. The ability to acquire and propagate images with ease doesn’t make you a Spielberg, any more than learning to write turns you into Shakespeare. But creativity, inquisitiveness, and collaboration will never go out of style.

TEDx programs are independently organized TED-like events.

The Color of Mexico City

Lots of time in Latin America lately.

In the past two years, I’ve been to Brazil on two work trips, vacationed in Baja, visited my son in Chile, and now I’m in Mexico City for nearly a week, shooting a medical video. Everywhere we’re surrounded by wonderful faces, fascinating street scenes, huge swaths of color, unique art, and both traditional and innovative design. A visual smorgasbord, for sure. Also, amazingly, we have a whole weekend off.

Here’s a sample of the color around us. Photos from Coyoacán and Palenco Districts, Frida Kahlo’s House/Museum, and the Museo de Arte Moderna.

For Pop, A Century Later

My daddy was the strongest man in the world. My daddy was the smartest man in the world. My daddy could build or fix anything, and he was an expert on everything. That’s how I thought of him when I was growing up, and most of it turned out to be true.

My dad, Harry Zarchy, was a Renaissance man, a teacher in the New York City schools for 36 years, a skilled musician, a hobbyist and craftsman who excelled in fields as diverse as jewelry making, watch repair, clock making, furniture building, ham radio, photography, drawing, and countless others. And he was an author, the creator of over 30 books on crafts and hobbies and the outdoors for kids and teenagers, mostly with his own photographs and drawings. Between 1941 and 1973, in 32 years, he published 36 books.

NAB 2012 Preview

I’m winging to Las Vegas for a couple of days to attend the NAB Show, the annual technical meeting and equipment show of the National Association of Broadcasters.

In particular, I’m interested to see the latest digital cinema cameras, some recently released, some newly announced this week.

I’m especially intrigued by an excellent summary in nofilmschool.com, which compares the newest digital cameras by resolution and price. And as always, I’ll also be looking at new camera accessories and lighting gear at the show. Watch for more reports coming up soon!

Confessions of a Bicoastal Baseball Fan

In honor of the A’s and Giants both winning their divisions and making the baseball playoffs:

Here’s my dirty little secret: I am a bicoastal baseball fan. I root for both the Giants and the Athletics, who play on opposite coasts of San Francisco Bay. This duality is heresy for many baseball fans, who call me a “bad fan” and consider sports loyalty an absolute, one-sided affair, even in a two-team market.

But how glorious to have two clubs to follow! When one wallows in mediocrity, the other is often a contender. One of my teams plays at home every day. If the other is on the East Coast, their starting times are staggered, and I can listen to or watch two games a day – an embarrassment of riches, for sure.

New Video from Rocker Chuck Prophet: ‘Temple Beautiful’ Tour of San Francisco

Rock musician Chuck Prophet has released a new video, Part I of his musical tour of San Francisco.

The video features scenes of Chuck playing cuts from his new Temple Beautiful album and chatting about songs inspired by various iconic settings in the City by the Bay.

“If ever Cain and Abel went into business together, it would probably be something like the O’Farrell Theater,” he says in front of the Mitchell Brothers’ porn paradise (for “The Left Hand and the Right Hand”). Other locations include the Geary Street site of both Jim Jones’ People’s Temple and former Punk club The Temple (“Temple Beautiful”), Harvey Milk Plaza at Castro and Market (“White Night, Big City”), and various downtown corners (“Who Shot John”).

My First Paid Writing Gig

To kick off the new year, I recently came upon this joke I wrote years ago, originally published in Boys’ Life Magazine in 1961. As payment, I received a Boy Scout Handbook, making this my first paid writing gig! It’s obvious to me that I was right to choose film and video as a career […]

OUR NEW BOOK—No Definite Plans: Eleven Tales of Laughter, Love, Travel—Volume 3 from Townsend 11

I’m very excited about the publication of the third volume in our new e-Book series!

No Definite Plans: Eleven Stories of Laughter, Love, Travel, is now available on Amazon’s Kindle Store and Barnes and Noble’s Nook Book Store. This new offering is by Townsend 11 (my writing collective), edited by Larry Habegger. I contributed a story (“Chartres: Ecstasy at the Altar,” about my family’s odd visit to a venerable landmark), as well as one of the two cover photos.

In this third book, No Definite Plans, you can learn how to hold it while rafting the Amazon, have an animated dream, witness a unique spectacle in a French cathedral, visit a women’s only sanctum in Morocco, and head for home in the Midwest. You will contemplate an emperor’s curiosity, discover the unexpected aftermath of adventure, and confront the inevitability of aging. And, in our first fiction offerings, you’ll meet unforgettable characters in China and India and ponder the generation gap in modern language.

Townsend 11 Publishes Volume 2: No Set Boundaries

Townsend 11 has published Volume 2 of our new e-book series—No Set Boundaries: Eleven Stories of Life, Travel, Misadventure.

For several years now, I’ve belonged to this collective of eleven writers (including one who lives in Barcelona). We meet monthly in a converted brick warehouse on Townsend Street in San Francisco.

We are committed to sharing stories that enlighten, entertain, and inspire. Our work is an eclectic mix that has been widely published in major magazines, newspapers, and books, and has earned numerous awards. Now, in this age of e-books, we’ve launched a series of works to engage you.

In our second book, No Set Boundaries: Eleven Stories of Life, Travel, Misadventure, you can witness a Catalan ritual in Barcelona, shop the Italian way, freeze on an English beach, deal with prejudice in Ethiopia, backpack down a frightening road in Cambodia, rest in a California garden, and glide along on a French canal. You’ll learn about a bent zucchini that’s not a vegetable, try to help lost travelers, break a leg on a mountain trail, and dash through an ancient city in India.

Traffic Study—Timelapse with GoPro & 5D

The amazing little GoPro HDHero cameras can record full 1080p HD video, as well as timelapse and single shots. They’re tiny and easy to rig anywhere, as in the setup below where we used them on a corporate shoot, mounting six on laptops for a video chat, instead of the built-in iSight cameras.

But camera movement is where the GoPros shine. The HDHero comes with helmet mount, auto mount, body mount, or wrist mount, with both waterproof and non-waterproof housings. I recently bought the HDHero camera, helmet rigging, suction cup for autos, tiny clip-on LCD monitor, extra batteries and clip-on battery pack.

In Timelapse mode on the GoPros, you can only control the interval between shots (2, 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds). Everything else is automatic—shutter, aperture, video gains, etc.

Prowling Through Paris

I shot a one-day HD job this week for a Silicon Valley company … in Paris. Another shoot with two Canon 5D Mark II cameras, mine plus one belonging to the production company.

All in all, I was in the air about 22 hours, and on the ground for about 48. I did have a couple of hours to prowl around through the heart of Paris on our arrival day with my camera and director Dan Smith.

Sky Jockey: Conquering Jetlag

Busy week. Lotsa time in the air:

Last Monday—Fly SFO to Washington-Dulles /
Tuesday—One-day shoot near Dulles airport /
Wednesday—Fly Dulles to SFO /
Thursday—Breathe, pant /
Friday—Scheme, pack /
Saturday—Depart SFO to Paris /
Sunday—Arrive Paris /
Monday—One-day shoot in Paris /
Tuesday—Fly Paris to SFO /
Today—Breathe, pant, blog

Mastering jetlag is the only way I can get through periods like these. It’s an imperfect science at best

Write What You Don’t Know

I’ve been a filmmaker and writer for most of my life, but I’ve never written a film. There was no screenplay writing class at Stanford when I was in film school there, for some reason, and I never caught the bug.

Now, however, Julian Hoxter, my colleague in the Cinema Department at San Francisco State University, has published a wonderful book called Write What You Don’t Know: An Accessible Manual for Screenwriters. I can feel my life starting to change.

Townsend 11: Volume 1 Now in More Stores, Volume 2 Due Out Soon

News from Townsend 11, the writing collective I’ve belonged to for years, here in San Francisco:

First—Volume 1 of our new book series, No Fixed Destination: Eleven Stories of Life, Love, Travel, was originally published in July as a Kindle book. But now we have made it available at most e-book stores.

Next—Volume 2 of the series, No Set Boundaries: Eleven Stories of Life, Misadventure, will be published in a few days on the Kindle Store, and through other e-Book outlets a few weeks later.