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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My Writing Group Has Published a Book of Stories—No Fixed Destination, by Townsend 11, Vol. 1 of Our New Series

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working with other authors in my writing group, passing through final stages of publication for our first e-Book … Drumroll !! …

Available NOW at Amazon’s Kindle Store:

No Fixed Destination: Eleven Stories of Life, Love, Travel

This collection of 11 personal essays, memoirs, and true stories from Townsend 11, a group of award-winning writers, takes readers on emotional journeys and adventures from California to Croatia to China and back, Ethiopia to Egypt, England to New England, and Hawaii to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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.

Seagull Right-Angle Viewfinder’s Unique Usage Manual

This Seagull right-angle viewfinder offers great flexibility of camera angles for my Canon 5D Mark II, but only when shooting stills. It’s solidly made, sharp, lightweight, inexpensive (about one-third the cost of the equivalent Canon product), and includes the unique Usage Manual below.

Paris When It Sizzles

“Pinch me,” says Susan as we cross the Seine from the Left Bank to face the sun-drenched Gothic towers of Notre Dame. “I can’t believe we’re back here.”

We peel off jackets and join the throngs of tourists and worshippers outside the Cathedral. Despite the lyrics of the Cole Porter song – “I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles” – it’s only April, but the temperature this afternoon sizzles near 80.

We’ve visited Paris at earlier stages of our lives – nine years ago with our teenagers, when we witnessed a suicide at the Eiffel Tower and a young woman in some ecstatic trance dropping her dress at Chartres Cathedral; 25 years ago, during our disastrous Open Relationship period before we had children; and separately back in 1968, long before we met, when Susan spent a year in a study abroad program and I coincidentally buzzed through Paris on a speedy trek across Europe with my college roommates.

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.

NAB 2011: Greening the Film Business—LED Fresnel Lights

It’s a vicious cycle in the film business. We use scads of energy to light our sets, usually trying to make them look as natural as possible, then we use scads of energy to cool them. If we can reduce the power required for lighting, we can save money two ways.

In the olden days of production, when I was starting out in the business, most movie lights (except for big arc lights) had tungsten or quartz lamps. These lamps employed a simple technology, like Edison’s light bulb, pushing so much electric current though a thin wire filament that it glowed and gave off light—and heat. Tungsten is still the most mature, least expensive, hottest, and least efficient lighting technology available.

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.

NAB 2011: Innovision

At a climactic moment in a rock video, the camera moves in on the guitar strings, bringing us closer and closer to the fingers of the player, then impossibly close, then we slip past the strings and enter the hole in the guitar.

In a movie about Las Vegas, the camera looks up from deep in the well of the craps table as the dice come tumbling by us, very close, and very large. In a gangster movie, the camera sits on the velvet surface of a pool table and looks up at the rack of balls, just as the cue ball comes crashing in.

In a road chase, the camera speeds along, crazily close to the ground, then passes unscathed under three vehicles. In another scene in a bowling alley, the camera hurtles down the lane toward an inevitable collision with the pins.

NAB 2011: Digital Cinema Camera Shootout

During the recent NAB Show in Las Vegas, I attended a panel discussion and screening of a series of tests called the Single Chip Camera Evaluation. The SCCE shootout, produced by an independent, ad hoc group named Image Quality Geeks, compared 11 single-chip digital cinema cameras, along with two 35mm film emulsions. These extensive tests, designed for “apples-to-apples” comparisons, provided a comprehensive look at the following cameras.

NAB 2011: More Cameras

This report on new professional digital video cameras (introduced at or just before this month’s NAB Show) is continued from the previous post.

NAB 2011: Cameras

Manufacturers showed tons of new gear of all kinds at this month’s NAB Show in Las Vegas. Because my time at the show was limited, I focused primarily on new professional digital video cameras.

Some of these cameras were also involved in a 12-camera shootout – the Single Chip Camera Evaluation, a screening presented by Image Quality Geeks. More on this soon. Over the next two posts, I’ll preview a number of impressive new cameras introduced at or just before this NAB.

NAB 2011: Back to Vegas

The first time I went to the NAB Show, I wore camouflage fatigues and marched through hippies. I was working the show for Ampex, the television equipment company that had invented videotape. During the 80s, they were buying Sony professional video camera parts, assembling them in Ampex factories, and branding and marketing them as their …

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NAB 2011: Show Preview

The National Association of Broadcasters annual trade show takes place next week at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

I’ll be there for a couple of days to check out the new cameras, among other things, and I’ll post several reports from there.

Here are some announced/rumored items I’ll be taking a close look at:

A prototype for the next (and most advanced) addition to Sony’s Cine Alta line, a new camera for digital cinematography with a sensor greater than 4K. Jon Fauer, in an article in Film and Digital Times, says the new camera will shoot from 1-72 fps in normal mode, and 1-120 fps in High Frame Rate mode.

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 …

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‘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.

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

Giants Fanfest 2011 Slide Show

My son Danny and his friend Thomas Todd have started a fan podcast about the World Champion San Francisco Giants (I never get tired of saying that), with associated blog and website. The podcast is called “Two Guys, A Glove, and a Coke Bottle,” (despite their own joke that the name sounds like a gay …

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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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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.

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