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ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Books / Writing • Travel

Good Night, Irene—Confessions of a Mileage Whore

Bronze Certificate, Funny Travel Category, 9th Annual Solas Awards for Travel Writing from Travelers’ Tales, March 2015

It’s not easy being a mileage whore. Sometimes you have to do things that don’t seem to make sense.

United Airlines operates a major hub in San Francisco, and I’ve whored for their miles for years now. On my trip to Brazil recently, because I wanted the mileage, I had chosen a longer United itinerary through Newark going and Washington coming.

But when things got complicated on the return, I had to decide if the miles were worth it.

We wrapped our week-long video shoot in São Paulo on a Friday night—amid much hugging and thanking with the cast and crew—and had time to relax over dinner that evening.

Saturday was the first day all week I didn’t have to set my alarm for 5:30, and I luxuriated in sleeping in. I had plans to meet my co-worker for breakfast before his 3 pm flight back home to Salvador, Bahia, further north up the Brazilian coast. My own departure for the States was scheduled for Saturday night.

But when I awoke with a start Saturday morning, I had an . . . CONTINUE READING: Good Night, Irene—Confessions of a Mileage Whore

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 • 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 • 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 • Photos • Travel

    Streets of São Paulo

    Photos from my Brazil trip, August 2011 . . . CONTINUE READING: Streets of São Paulo

    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

    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

    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

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • VIdeos • Travel • Production

    Brazil: My First iPhone Video

    Shot on an iPhone 4 in Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, and edited in iMovie. . . . CONTINUE READING: Brazil: My First iPhone Video

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

    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 an interview background that was neither a glass hotel nor a slum, our local production assistant Erica took us to the university.

    The Ribeirão Preto campus of “OOS-pee,” as USP is known, is spread out, tree-covered, and rural. Driving through campus, Randy chose a spot in front of a blue house with some mottled light coming through the trees in the background, then Erica helped Lori and our Brazilian producer Marcello Bartz get permission to shoot there the next day.

    <<See also: Brazil: My First iPhone Video, Continental Drift>>

    We pulled up in several trucks and proceeded to unload our cases and set up our gear. A few neighbors stopped by to see what was going on, and after a while a truck came speeding up and three burly guys quickly emerged. They looked around uncertainly, taking in the scene, . . . CONTINUE READING: Eerie Times at USP

    ROVING CAMERA BLOG • Travel • Production

    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 Francisco Bay Area last Monday.

    Tomorrow, Sunday, we go to China to finish shooting the project. It will be the fourth continent on this shoot for DIT Jim Rolin and me. Director David Rathod and producer Anne Sandkuhler joined us for the travel legs in Europe. After shooting at three locations in the US, director Randy Field and producer Lori Wright then joined Jim and me for the long schlep down to Brazil.

    <<See also Eerie Times at USP, Brazil: My First iPhone Video>>

    And what a schlep it was! Nine flights in 19 days: SFO–>Frankfurt–>Amsterdam–>Geneva–>Hamburg–>Geneva–>Washington Dulles–>Sao Paulo–>JFK–>SFO. Nearly 24,000 miles, a real butt-burner. Somewhere over the Atlantic between Switzerland and coastal US, I surpassed 50,000 miles on United this year, qualifying me for coveted Premier Executive status in their mileage program. Only mileage whores like me care about such things. I’m . . . CONTINUE READING: Continental Drift