Brazil: Smooth as Silk

Less than an hour after my last post (Brazil: Some Days the Bear Eats You), my friend The Dave Mitchell responded on my Facebook page: “Nice, Bill. Easy days are completely forgettable.” Isn’t that the truth?

“But,” added The Dave, a freelance gaffer/key grip, “I’m available if you’ve got any coming up.” If only!

After our tough time at the tower, the next couple of days shooting in Brazil were smooth as silk. Just as The Dave said, I can remember little about those shoots except for what we did and where we did it. I always find it amazing that I can easily spin out 1500-2000 words describing a bad day, but smooth shoots leave me with less material. That’s why OO stories (Overcoming Obstacles) are so popular in movies. It’s hard to find a narrative arc in a yarn about happy professionals cheerfully moving apace from setup to lovely setup.

Back to Brazil

On my first trip to Brazil in 1993, I was shooting for a Japanese high-tech company. We arrived in São Paulo and went out to scout at our client’s manufacturing facility nearby. We met with the general manager of the company, a Brazilian who was impressed by this visit from corporate headquarters. “What can I […]

Handy-Looky: Shooting from the Hip … and the Shoulder

Shooting handheld for documentary, commercial, musical, and even dramatic films can challenge, vex, frustrate, exhaust, and exhilarate—often all at once. Handholding the camera lets you improvise angles quickly, stick the camera in places a tripod can’t reach, or float with innovative, flowing moves difficult to duplicate from a dolly. And if you’re tall like me, throwing the camera on your shoulder enables you to see over crowds at news events, rallies, shows, and parties.

The first movies were filmed from tripods and later from rolling dollies.

Blowing Up the Catcher: Buster Posey and the Clean Play Club

The collision was so violent that, for a moment, I feared he was dead, then paralyzed. But Giants catcher Buster Posey started to move almost immediately, clawing the dirt in agony, and I knew he had sustained a devastating injury.

Posey was hit on a play at the plate in last week’s second game between the Giants and Florida Marlins, when substitute Scott Cousins, who had entered a tie game as a pinchhitter in the 12th inning, attempted to score after tagging up at 3rd base on a shallow fly ball out. Giants right fielder Nate Schierholtz, who had been throwing out runners at various bases on an almost daily basis, released a bullet throw on one hop to catcher Posey, who had stepped out in front of home plate.

Sony F3 Camcorder Preview

Yesterday afternoon I attended a preview of the new Sony Super 35 PMW-F3 camera, presented by Snader & Associates and hosted by Videofax at their new rental facility in San Francisco. Reps from Sony and from Snader, who sells the camera, were on hand to present the camera’s features and specs, and three F3s with […]

‘Wrecks and Pissers’ Wins Travel Writing Award

Winners of the Fifth Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Story of the Year were announced February 28 on BestTravelWriting.com, by the editors of Travelers’ Tales.

I’m pleased that my story “Wrecks and Pissers: The Bombay-Pune Road” has won a Bronze Certificate in the category “Destination: The best story about a place that captures its essence and reveals its attractions, making the reader want to go there.”

“Wrecks” is a funny story about my travels in India a few years ago. It certainly captures some of India’s essence. I’m not sure it makes you want to go there, but who am I to quibble? You be the judge.

Dragon’s Cheeseball Rig

A cheeseball rig is a setup where necessity spawns bizarre offspring, where crewmembers put the gear together in a new and odd way, often because of a missing item, which would have made life much simpler. Like the NASA guys ingeniously kluging together an improved air scrubber on Apollo 13, using only materials on hand … duct tape, baling wire, paper clips. Innovation in the face of adversity.

Most of all, it has to be funky.

At least four or five times – and twice in the last year – I’ve had the pleasure of working with a gaffer in China, a lighting professional from Hong Kong with the unlikely name of Dragon Lau. Dragon often works with Andrew Leung of Asia Films

Around the World in 11 Days: Epilogue

On our way back to the hotel after the shoot at the Karaoke club, Richard spontaneously has our driver pull the gigantic van over, right in the middle of Shibuya Square, the famed, neon-crazy crossing in the heart of Tokyo, through which nearly a million people pass every day.

We hop out into the mob scene on the sidewalk, shooting pictures and video and gaping at thecrowds. Randy climbs the built-in ladder on the gigantic van to a flat platform on the roof and shoots the huge video billboards, ads for pop stars, flashing lights, car traffic, and human flow with his Sony EX3.

We remain parked there for at least half an hour, with no permission, no permits, no pesky police presence threatening us, issuing citations, or even politely asking us to move.

Around the World in 11 Days: Part 3

Our flight to Japan on Virgin Atlantic is half-empty and quite comfortable. Virgin’s Premium Economy seats, which our travel agent says were not much more expensive than standard Economy, provide better food, better seats, better video, and more legroom.

Our flight leaves London at 1 pm Sunday. Twelve hours later, after flying nearly 6000 miles east across nine time zones, we arrive at Narita Airport outside Tokyo, where, somehow, it’s 10 am Monday. In San Francisco it’s still 5 pm Sunday, 17 hours earlier than Tokyo. None of us sleep much on the plane. The time change has us oddly discombobulated. Our midday departure and the availability of hundreds of movies (we’re all film buffs) both mitigate against sleep, as does, oddly, our enjoyment of the extra comfort on this flight.

Eerie Times at USP

In Brazil, our story was based in Ribeirão Preto, (pronounced something like “HEE-bay-roan PRAY-toe,” though all Brazilians laughed at our attempts to say it) a city of a half million, three or four hours inland from São Paulo. Our final shoot was at the local campus of the Universidade de São Paulo. In search of […]

Continental Drift

I’m hunkering down at home right now after a three-week trip through Europe and South America to shoot a global corporate medical film. Our route took four of us – and 13 cases of video and audio gear – drifting through the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Brazil. Plus one day shooting here in the San […]

Taming the Wild Eyeline

If the eyes truly are the windows to the soul, don’t we want to see them when we ask someone to be thoughtful, frank, and honest? Don’t we want to look into their eyes – and have them look into ours – to see if they’re telling the truth?

When I’m shooting interviews on video or film, the subject often asks whether to look directly into the lens, or off to one side at the interviewer. Worst case is when he or she doesn’t know where to look and glances about wildly, desperately seeking eye contact and approval, and appearing to all the world like a shifty-eyed no-goodnik. This can cause even unsophisticated audiences to mistrust the person they’re watching.

Historically, most movies use an objective camera style, where actors in closeup look to one side of the camera. Having actors look directly into the lens – subjective camera style – can be extremely disarming.

Shooting into the Void: PBS Science Series ‘Closer to Truth’

Presidents and paupers, musicians and moviemakers, actors and athletes, writers and regular Joes – I’ve shot hundreds and hundreds of interviews, perhaps thousands, sometimes 25 or more in a single day. But shooting for “Closer to Truth,” the PBS science series on “Cosmos, Consciousness, and God,” presents a unique challenge.

Start with the quest for a dramatic but natural lighting look, while shooting two people talking, with two cameras. Then add the factor that both cameras are moving constantly. Because the cameras will see more than 180 degrees of background during their slow journeys around the room, there’s nowhere to place stands for backlights. And front light just won’t do – flat and boring, out of the question.

The Bus to Maitencillo

Christmas Eve on the other side of the planet, and we had just missed our bus. Raw chicken was thawing in my backpack as we trudged along la Alameda in Santiago’s 85-degree heat, through throngs of late shoppers and sidewalk vendors, from one bus station to another. Susan and I were visiting our son Danny, […]