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ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

Shooting Miracles: How to Deal with Medical Locations

It’s still dark out as we pull up to the hospital on a frosty Chicago morning at six. One of the nurses greets us quietly, and we roll our cameras, monitors, lighting, and audio equipment through the bowels of the hospital to the corridor with the operating rooms.

In two hours we’ll be filming heart surgery.

We spend the time gowning up and cleaning our gear, chatting with the staff, and going over, for the umpteenth time, where to position ourselves, when to put on our x-ray protection, how often the lights will go off and on during the procedure, how long we’ll be shooting continuously. Once the nurses and techs have prepped the room and the patient, the doctors arrive and things get going quickly and calmly. . . . CONTINUE READING: Shooting Miracles: How to Deal with Medical Locations

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

Health: Our Most Important Product

Technology companies around the world spend millions of dollars on marketing media. Many of these projects rely on real people talking about their own experiences—that staple of corporate video, the talking head.

It’s important to keep asking: what are we selling? I sometimes find it difficult to feel an emotional attachment. Enterprise systems integration or managed hybrid cloud-based solutions don’t always tear at the heartstrings.

But I’ve come to realize that health is the most important product of technology, and that patient stories make the most interesting and compelling talking heads—not corporate executives, engineers, or software designers. Here are four memorable patients . . . CONTINUE READING: Health: Our Most Important Product

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Muse • Teaching

How to Succeed in the Film Business While Really, Really Trying

An old friend from the East Coast contacted me recently to see if I had any career advice for her friends’ son, a recent film school graduate who was trying make it as a filmmaker in New York City. I told my friend that, though my experience as a freelance crew person in the Bay Area wasn’t directly applicable to his efforts at finding production clients in New York, I would be happy to offer some general advice. Here it is.

Hi,

Nice to hear from you. As I explained to our mutual friend, I’m not sure how to advise you, other than telling you a bit about my career.

A little background:

Though I grew up on Long Island, I’m not too familiar with the world of production in New York City, having worked my entire career in the SF Bay Area market. I did do some shooting in New York at times, but primarily for California-based clients, usually Silicon Valley companies. And I worked as a freelance director of photography, not producing films as a production company, so my advice will be pretty general.

After graduating from Dartmouth with a major in government, I taught high school . . . CONTINUE READING: How to Succeed in the Film Business While Really, Really Trying

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Travel • Production • Muse

Showcasing ‘Showdown at Shinagawa’—The Video

Video of a presentation by Bill Zarchy at Northbrae Community Church, Berkeley, California on 2/3/16.

The author reads excerpts from four of the stories in his book, Showdown at Shinagawa: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil.” He also discusses the ins and outs of self-publishing, as well as his background as a globe-trotting cinematographer.

The stories read:

  • “Starstruck at Cannes: Morgan Freeman on the Red Carpet”
  • “21st Century Village: Telemedicine in Rural India”
  • “Dog Years: Sophie, Pop, and Bill Clinton”
  • “Shanghai Lunch”
  • Please note: Video is from an iPad. Sound level is low, but audible. Crank it up!

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Muse

    Bangkok, the Saudis, and the Jism Balls

    Sunset over the Chao Phraya River in Bangkok

    “I’m hungry,” said Randy, as we set up a sunset shot from the overpass near the end of our first day on the ground. “We need something to eat.”

    “Okay,” Larry agreed. “I’ll get street food. There’s lots of it around.”

    “Is that safe?”

    “This is at least my fifth trip to Thailand. I’ve never gotten sick on street food here.”

    “Unlike Mexico,” I put in, “or India, or Uganda.”

    “Or other places. I think everything’s very fresh here. When you buy something, it’s usually been made just minutes before.”

    Larry crossed to the other side of the pedestrian bridge, past a mutilated street beggar, to one of several food carts there. We resumed setting the camera for a shot of traffic below on Sukhumvit Avenue near our Bangkok hotel.

    Two men walked up and caught Randy’s eye. “Are you people Americans?” asked the larger, more prosperous-looking guy.

    I looked up from the camera as Rod adjusted the focus for our shot and Conrad set up his mic. The strangers didn’t look Thai. “Why?” Randy asked.

    He regarded us with a big smile and open arms. “We are from Saudi . . . CONTINUE READING: Bangkok, the Saudis, and the Jism Balls

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel • Production

    New Award & Reviews for SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil

    My book SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA tells true stories from my long career as a director of photography, working on film and digital cinema shoots across the U.S. and all around the world—Japan, India, China, Uganda, the Philippines, New Zealand, France, Singapore, England, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil.

    The book has recently been honored as a Commended Winner in Non-Fiction in the 2014 Self-Publishing Review Awards. One of the three highest non-fiction awards!

    RECENT REVIEWS

  • “Funny, sweet, and wise…deeply moving human interest stories…the doctor in India who doesn’t charge for treating people via telemedicine, the young man in England with cystic fibrosis who has a new lease on life thanks to a portable nebulizer, and the medical student in Uganda who is tirelessly working to help his people.”—Foreword Clarion Reviews
  • “The author recalls his near ‘big break’…as a novice director doing preproduction in the Philippines for a low-budget Japanese sci-fi film…Thumbs up for this filmmaker’s collection of postcards from the edge.”—Kirkus Reviews
  • “’Shanghai Lunch’ is a funny little vignette about Westerners trying Chinese delicacies. ‘The Big . . . CONTINUE READING: New Award & Reviews for SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil
  • ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel • Production

    SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA Now Available in Paperback and Kindle e-Book Versions

    SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil

    New Book by BILL ZARCHY on sale now!

    Introduction by Larry Habegger

    Bill Zarchy’s new book—SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA—is now on sale at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle e-book versions. SHOWDOWN AT SHINAGAWA: Tales of Filming from Bombay to Brazil tells true stories from Zarchy’s long career as a director of photography, working on film and digital cinema shoots across the U.S. and all around the world—Japan, India, China, Uganda, the Philippines, New Zealand, France, Singapore, England, Taiwan, Mexico, and Brazil. . . . CONTINUE READING: SHOWDOWN at SHINAGAWA Now Available in Paperback and Kindle e-Book Versions

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production

    Two Worthy Film Projects Need Your Donations

    I have just pledged money to two worthy film projects by Eliciana Nascimento and Eli Adler, and I urge my readers to do the same.

    Eliciana, an MFA student at San Francisco State, took (and aced!) my Advanced Cinematography class this spring. She and husband Ben Watkins plan to film her thesis project, The Summer of Gods, in her native Brazil, and are trying to raise $30,000 to shoot and complete the film this year. The Summer of Gods is a short film about a young girl named Lilli who visits her grandmother in rural Brazil. Near her village, she encounters Orishas (African gods) who challenge her with a mission. . . . CONTINUE READING: Two Worthy Film Projects Need Your Donations

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

    NAB Roundup 2013: LED Fresnels, Camera Accessories

    I first wrote about the development of LED Fresnel lights two years ago, tracking earlier reactions by the industry to high energy consumption and high heat output: “Greening the Film Business: LED Fresnels.” This year I followed up with some of the same manufacturers.

    Fresnel lenses, originally invented for lighthouses, have long been used on movie lights for careful light control and sharp shadows. Their typical concentric ring style enables them to have great diameter without clumsy thickness. . . . CONTINUE READING: NAB Roundup 2013: LED Fresnels, Camera Accessories

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

    NAB Roundup 2013: Cameras

    Las Vegas is known for its buffets, and the NAB Show at the Vegas Convention Center is a grand smorgasbord of technology.

    The floor exhibits fill over 800,000 square feet. 92,000 attendees crowd around 1500 exhibitors showing the latest products and services in TV and radio broadcasting, film and video production and postproduction, cloud computing, entertainment technology, file-based workflows, 3D visuals, and pro audio. . . . CONTINUE READING: NAB Roundup 2013: Cameras

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Apple’s Knowledge Navigator (in 1987) Foreshadowed Our Current Tech Toys

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Production

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Writing Projects: Hurricane Sandy / Trip to Taipei

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Production

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Temple Beautiful—Part II of Chuck Prophet’s Musical Tour of San Francisco

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

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

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Photos • Production • Baseball

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Shooting Giants: Photographing Baseball from the Diamond’s Edge

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Production

    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”). . . . CONTINUE READING: New Video from Rocker Chuck Prophet: ‘Temple Beautiful’ Tour of San Francisco

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Production • Tech

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Traffic Study—Timelapse with GoPro & 5D

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Brazil: Smooth as Silk

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

    Brazil: Visiting the Rental House

    On my first day in Brazil, I visited the rental house with Mush and Heeka.

    I brought my Canon 5D, a slew of lenses and two GoPro cameras with me from the States, but we’ve arranged to rent a second 5D camera body, two tripods, a small monitor, a wide angle lens, and some accessories from Universo Imagens here in São Paulo.

    Visiting the rental house is a time-honored ritual on international shoots. The most interesting rental house experience I can recall was in India several years ago. In a small warehouse crammed with a variety of battered and somewhat obsolete lighting instruments, a dutiful staff brought out each light we were renting, then plugged in and turned on each one. I’d seen this ritual before and was impressed that almost every light actually worked.

    Then I noticed that, because of rain pouring in under the rollup door, the floor was wet. In fact, the staff members were standing in puddles, barefoot, as they plugged in and demonstrated their lights. I backed cautiously away, nodding approval at the demonstration, but a bit cowed by the unholy mix of water and electricity.

    On another shoot in Taiwan, the staff demoed . . . CONTINUE READING: Brazil: Visiting the Rental House

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

    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 do for you?” he asked our clients from Tokyo. “Where would you like to film?”

    “We are here to film the manufacture of our cellular phones,” they responded.

    A frown crossed the general manager’s face. “Cellular phones?” he asked, then consulted in Portuguese with several of his colleagues.

    “We have not made cellular phones here for three or four years now.”

    Somehow, the geniuses in our client’s PR department hadn’t gotten the word that the cell phone manufacture had been moved to the Philippines a while before.

    We did some filming in the factory anyway, but we still needed a compelling story. Through our local production company, we found a sports radio reporter who used a cell phone to issue soccer game reports from the sidelines. Pretty advanced for 1993!

    Last year I returned to Brazil, this time to the smaller city of . . . CONTINUE READING: Back to Brazil

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production

    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. . . . CONTINUE READING: Handy-Looky: Shooting from the Hip … and the Shoulder

    Production • Tech

    NAB 2011: Mr. Brown’s Marvelous Machine—Garrett Brown & Steadicam

    A young boy rides his Big Wheels tricycle around the empty lobby of an old resort hotel as the camera follows close behind, low to the ground, the sound grating and tense as the trike runs noisily onto the hardwood floor, then over a rug, then onto the floor, then over a rug, around and around.

    The boy’s father, haunted and demented by months of isolation, chases his wife with a knife, up and down a circular staircase. Later he chases an apparition through an eerily lit hedge maze in the snow. . . . CONTINUE READING: NAB 2011: Mr. Brown’s Marvelous Machine—Garrett Brown & Steadicam

    Production • APPs

    Production APPtitude: Artemis Director’s Viewfinder

    This is the 2nd in a series of posts about useful iPhone apps for film and video production.

    In the beginning, directors and photographers framed their shots with two hands, spreading thumbs and forefingers at right angles, then raising them together to define a rectangle.

    Simple and cheap. Analog and infinitely adjustable. But inaccurate for defining aspect ratios, impossible to calibrate to particular focal lengths, and, well, a bit pretentious to watch.

    So years ago, I bought my first director’s viewfinder, made by Birns and Sawyer, a metal cylinder with focal length scales for 16mm and 35mm on the sides. Twist the cylinder: the magnification increased or decreased, and the view appeared to zoom in or out, showing an approximation of the angle of view of various chosen focal lengths.

    I used it frequently, mostly on tech scouts, to show directors the capabilities and limits of our zoom lenses, and on shoots to choose lenses when using fixed-focal length primes. The B&S finder had a default 1.33 aspect ratio, and soon I bought two plastic masks that slipped on the front and showed TV cutoff and 1:85. The finder came with a metal chain, which invariably caught in the . . . CONTINUE READING: Production APPtitude: Artemis Director’s Viewfinder

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production

    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 . . . CONTINUE READING: Dragon’s Cheeseball Rig

    Production • Tech • APPs

    Production APPtitude: Sun Seeker

    This is the first in a series of posts about useful iPhone apps for film and video production.

    In the past few months, during my shoots overseas, I have been confronted by producers, crew members, drivers, waiters, and ordinary folks on the street, using iPhones for texting, tweeting, gaming, emailing, translating, navigating, Facebooking, computing currencies, listening to music, showing photos, shooting video, sometimes even talking on the phone … and exploring new apps created to help people like us, who work in film and video production.

    Apple products have long been popular with folks in the visual media. In the US, I am used to seeing Macs and iPhones on production crews; sometimes nearly everyone has one! But recently, while traveling in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil, and, to some extent, China, it’s been hard to miss the remarkable proliferation of the iPhone.

    This surge in iPhone sales abroad was not unexpected. Early last year, Apple projected an enormous increase in its iPhone exports. Yet in September, when I found three Swiss cabbies in a row with their personal iPhones mounted on their taxis’ dashboards, I was still taken by surprise.

    I have long admired (and sometimes . . . CONTINUE READING: Production APPtitude: Sun Seeker