Production

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.

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

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 …

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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 …

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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. …

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”).

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.

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 …

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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.

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.

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 …

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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

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, …

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