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ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Tech

Around the World in 11 Days: Part 2

In Manchester, England, we check into the Radisson Edwardian, well situated in a recently gentrified, reconstructed, and re-imagined section of downtown. On our arrival night, we are just in time for a late dinner at the restaurant in the lobby, which repeats its name in an endless sign across its glass wall. In our jetlagged haze, both Jim and I could swear the joint is named Palo Alto (where he grew up and we both went to school), but a closer inspection shows the name is really Alto. Or Altoaltoaltoaltoaltoaltoaltoaltoaltoalto.

We have four nights at the Radisson: our arrival day, a day of scouting, and two days of shooting. In all that time, the temperature stays between 30 and 40 degrees, nearly always drizzly or overcast, never raining hard, never quite freezing. We are at 53 degrees latitude, well north of our homes in the Bay Area, which are at about 37 degrees. This far north, this early in January, Manchester experiences less than eight hours of daylight in each 24-hour cycle.

On our scout day, we meet our patient, whom I’ll call Tim, and our local lighting gaffer/chief electrician, Stuart Drummond. We examine Tim’s flat and determine it’s . . . CONTINUE READING: Around the World in 11 Days: Part 2

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production • Tech

Around the World in 11 Days: Part 1

The low, warm winter sun slants in on the four of us as we shuffle our gear on the curb at San Francisco Airport, en route to England and Japan.

I’ve joined engineer Jim Rolin, producer Lori Wright, and director Randy Field outside the International Terminal. We count cases (13 plus carry-ons), then take a moment to bask in the balmy Northern California weather: just under 60 degrees this afternoon, on the fourth day of the new year.

We know that the United Kingdom has just dug itself out of pre-holiday blizzards and freezing snow-and-ice storms that closed down Heathrow Airport in London, our first port of call, for days. Manchester, England, our eventual destination nearly four hours’ drive north of Heathrow, has just a week earlier reported lows in the 20s and predictions of rain and more snow. Tokyo at this point – nearly six days in our future – predicts clear skies, with temps in the 40s.

We take a final breath of Real Air and step into Airline World, a brightly-lit place of bad, stale air and cramped spaces. Especially if you’re 6’4”, like me. Or 6’8”, like Jim.

Our departure process is routine. We number . . . CONTINUE READING: Around the World in 11 Days: Part 1

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

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.

. . . CONTINUE READING: Taming the Wild Eyeline

ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Production • Tech

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.

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

Production • Tech

Living in Oblivion: On Creating, then Destroying Your Original Video Media

Preserving the sanctity of your original media has always been one of the cardinal rules of production.

In my first week of film school, I learned about work print. The original film negative is used once to make this cloned copy, then the original is locked away, presumably in a climate-controlled vault environment. The work print is used for editing, with all the scratches, tears, gouges and dirt endemic to the mechanical film editing process. The pristine original negative is only brought out at the end of the process to make printing masters, then locked away again.

When I first started shooting video, one advantage it had over film was that the tapes could be erased and reused, or so I was told. But in common professional practice, this is rarely done. In these days of non-linear editing, the original tapes are used as source material when the footage is digitized into the Final Cut Pro or Avid systems, then they are vaulted, in case of problems later.

What kinds of problems? Recently I shot a corporate project on HDV, and shortly afterward the producer called me in a panic with the news that all the footage we had . . . CONTINUE READING: Living in Oblivion: On Creating, then Destroying Your Original Video Media

Production • Tech

Polishing the Talking Head: The West Wing Documentary Special

Former White House Director of Communications David Gergen is recalling the unforgettable day that President Reagan and his staff woke up at Versailles Palace, had lunch with the Pope and ate dinner with Queen Elizabeth. My problem, however, (see photo) is lighting his dark suit without pouring too much light on the top of his head.

Henry Kissinger is describing the peace agreement in Vietnam as a high point in his White House service. But how do I get light in both of his eyes without creating distracting glare in his glasses? And what do I do about the moiré pattern on his tie?

Bill Clinton reveals that he is more idealistic about the presidency now than when he took office, . . . CONTINUE READING: Polishing the Talking Head: The West Wing Documentary Special