The Golden & Guilded Age combined…

Posted in Documentary, Editing on August 11th, 2014 by Dave

I’ve been watching my hard-drives fill up over the last few months. Not just from my current project, “Father Soldier“, but from the material I’ve collected making my  five previous films. I currently have over 2 terabytes of data accumulated over the last 2.5 years. Nothing fills up hard drives faster than video, and the rate of data is soaring as new higher quality video formats are coming into widespread use.

To give you some idea, I have two cameras I film with, One is the Panasonic Lumix G6, which is primarily a stills camera that just happens to shoot amazing quality video. I bought mine for $600.00, which considering the picture quality is absolutely astonishing. g6

The G6 shoots in what is called AVCHD, which is a highly compressed, but still high quality recording format. It uses data at the rate of 2.8 megabytes per second or 10.8 gigabytes per hour. That’s a lot, but it’s manageable. It runs cool, and batteries last at least an hour – and they’re cheap to buy.
bmpcc

 

 

It’s  nothing compared to my new baby, the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, (above), which is an infant in physical size only.

It’s a monster in the amount of data it eats up: At full High Definition resolution, which is 1920×1080 pixels,  it chews up 17.9 megabytes per second or 79 gigabytes per hour. It get’s hot in your hand  when you’re shooting. I use it as a hand-warmer in cold weather:) . It eats a battery in twenty minutes.

What sets this camera apart from my G6, (the one that shoots AVCHD), is that the Black Magic Pocket Cinema Camera, or BMPCC for short, shoots in a very high quality format called Pro Res 422 HQ, (it shoots in other formats too, but I use this one ). Being able to record in this format  makes it a true cinema camera – think of it as digital film.

What does this buy the Director of Photography, or Cinematographer?

The camera shoots a “flat” image. It’s dull and washed out. It actually looks bad! But,  the images contain the raw material for gorgeous images. Because there’s a tremendous amount of information in this crappy looking image which can  be  unleashed in the post-production process called color-grading.

On the other hand,  when you shoot AVCHD, you get a decent image right from the camera. That’s if you expose properly, and get the color of the light you’re shooting accurately recorded. But if you’re off a little, particularly in exposure, and the lighting conditions you filming in have a high dynamic range, meaning high contrast- harsh sunlight with lots of bright areas in part of the image and shadow areas that are very dark in comparison – then you’re in trouble.

Your eye can handle extreme dynamic ranges but cameras shooting in AVCHD struggle.  Exposure mistakes  can’t be fixed in post production to any great degree.  In comparison, the  BMPCC’s, and it’s Pro Res format,   has the amazing  ability to provide information and detail within nearly every part of an image. It doesn’t  record an  image that is any sharper than the G6, but it’s image is far more filmic. Because there’s more information in the image that can be brought out in post-production – and which can be manipulated not just to fix mistakes, but to give the film a “look”.  Just like the way Hollywood does for its features. For an independent  filmmaker, this is  wonderful. We love gorgeous images, even if the majority of our audiences don’t place a high degree of importance in upgrading from Standard DVD, which has a resolution of 720×480 pixels, to Blue Ray which is 1920×1080 pixels.

But I’m a convert to theses new formats and it looks like I’ll be buying more hard drives…in fact,  I’ll be doing it gladly. I’ll still use the G6 for interviews that are lengthy, it’s quality is still darn good. And if I expose properly and adjust the camera to the color of the light in the scene, it will look very, very good. And it will edit together OK with the BMPCC. Not perfect but only other film maker pixel peepers like myself will notice or care.

The BMPCC is soooo nice. It’s my  go-to camera when I want maximum quality.  Or when I want to “push” the color of an image around to create different looks and moods.

I bought mine new a month ago when the camera went on sale…for 500.00! About the cost of an IPhone … which puts out a pretty amazing picture too come to think of it.

It’s a golden age for people creating digital media, no question about it. I will use these new tools to guild my films in luscious beauty.

There, I sort of wrapped up the title of this post thingy.

 

“Captain – Story of a Fallen Soldier”, now available for free online…

Posted in Documentary, Filmmaking on August 8th, 2014 by Dave

Captain – Story of a Fallen Soldier (23:30)

 

I’m delighted to make this film available for online viewing! I was lucky to have it screened on PBS and I’m proud of this piece. I had a great film-subject and storyteller in Dick Updaw, who was incredibly cooperative during the production. I hope you enjoy this piece if you haven’t seen it in it’s HD glory!

Broadcast on PBS, Captain – Story of a Fallen Soldier is the moving story of one veteran’s mission to remember and memorialize a fallen warrior from a previous war – a man he never knew…

“To Have and To Give”, a film about living organ donation, now free online.

Posted in Documentary, Informational Video on August 6th, 2014 by Dave

I’ve decided to make a number of my films available for online screening. My first release is To Have and To Give, a  film about about my experience of having been a living organ donor.

My brother-in-law, the violinist Sung Rai Sohn, was in dire need of a liver transplant. When it looked like he would not receive a liver from a deceased donor I was able to donate a portion of my own liver to help extend his life. This film is a moving depiction of our family’s journey through a tough time – a time of great stress and crisis – particularly for my wife Ann, who bravely “green-lighted” the transplant… We were very lucky; medical science was there for us and provided a means, through live donation, to help keep our family intact.

If you found this film worthwhile viewing, please donate below.

Thanks,
Dave Esposito




Going deep….

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on August 4th, 2014 by Dave

Timmy Underwater2 copy

Tim O’Hare, (Go Pro waterproof camera  in hand, but out of view),  films himself playing young Leo Hetzler in the golden childhood summer of his youth…

 

As Father Soldier nears completion, the excitement, (positive), and the anxiety, (not as positive as the excitement), grow.

I’m in the “combing” through phase of the editing, lot’s of technical tweaking, but also adjusting edits, timing, pacing. My combing, (revision), process starts with rendering a high quality video file of the program and then sitting in a dark, quiet room with a notepad. I view the program and take notes. Then I go back into the actual program and make my changes. Then render, view, take notes again, make changes. I’m at iteration number ten as we speak and I’m down to about a half a page of changes per revision. Sometimes I’m changing things to make them different, sometimes to revert to what I had previously done.  The technical issues are all taken care of at this point. What I’m really going and hoping for  now is coming to each viewing with fresh eyes. I’m doing this because I’m still hoping that I’ll see something that strikes a spark that I can act on before saying good bye, good luck to the film…

One of the things about living and breathing with a personal film project, or anything that you’re intensely involved with I imagine,  is not just maintaining objectivity with each viewing, which sounds obvious enough, but approaching the thing you’re trying to do  in a state of even mood. For me at least, I’ve noticed that one day I’ll look at my film and be moved, caught up in it and surprised at what I’ve accomplished, and the next I time I view it I think it’s horrible, hopeless, and futile. And of course whatever your reaction is, it carries through into the rest of your day.

I think at a certain point almost anyone trying to create or express something loses objectivity about their work. With this film, I’ve seen it so many times, I know it so thoroughly, that I worry that I won’t be able to tell what’s working and what’s not. So my fallback is to ask myself whether I’ve been true to my subject. And I’m not just talking about the person I’m filming. I mean did my own projections onto the subject play out in a way that seem truthful and honorable. Is the relationship between the subject, the film maker,and the film a good one.

I cleared a major hurdle this Saturday day morning when I showed my co-producer and wife Ann, the film for the first time.  My work on the project  had just past the one year point – and I haven’t shown it to  anyone.  But the time had arrived and I had the “screening room” all set up just so, nice and dark and  quiet.

She was crying very early on, which is typical for her as she will cry at weddings, graduations, grace before a meal at a family gathering…She was crying at the end of the film as well. Of course the crying could mean anything, like this was a total waste of my husband’s life for the past year – what a loser, why did I marry him in the first place…you know, doomsday scenarios like that were running through my head. Not really though. I knew that something good was happening, but I was hoping that the somber, serious nature of the film wasn’t driving her into a state of clinical depression.  As it turns out, she looked at me at the end of the film, shook her head, and said this is really, really good. Or maybe she said great. Good,  I thought, would be good enough…

This week, Father Leo will see it.

Editing is intuition, is storytelling…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Storytelling on July 28th, 2014 by Dave

I’m finishing up the edit on my latest film, “Father Soldier”,  hopefully within the next few weeks…and it has been a journey! For the longest time, I’ve felt like a  blind man groping around for a way to tell this story.  Now I feel more like someone with bad allergies and watery eyes – or maybe a mild case of glaucoma…serious, but not life-threatening.

The narrative of this story is simple, a young boy, Leo Hetzler, born of a  well- off family in Rochester, NY, has this wonderful, golden sort of childhood. His parents are loving and nourish him with freedom and responsibility. He goes off to fight in World War 2, as a combat infantryman,  experiences tragedy and hardship, but survives after nearly being killed, “about six times a day”, as he puts it.  He is sent on to the Philippines, where he and his buddies are told that they will not survive the planned invasion of Japan. The allies drop the bomb, he goes home, enters the priesthood, gets his Ph.D, and  spends the following  sixty years as a Basilian  priest and Professor of English at St. John Fisher College in Rochester. So that’s the narrative – now how to make it into a film that is true to the the person I’m filming and to  my own reaction to his life? And on top of that, has a spiritual, poetic qualtity. Something that hangs in the air…

 

Freezes (2)

 

I pretty much ruled out a straight documentary approach: complete with a timeline, on camera interviews, voice overs, and images and sound to cover the narrative.

Instead, I basically did all of the above, but I’ve tried to take it to a different level. Actually I didn’t really try, it just seemed to progress naturally from having spent more than a year turning this film over in my mind – and in my video editor . Like all of my films so far, I’ve gone through periods where I thought the project was utterly hopeless and that I’d never get “there”, – wherever “there” was.   But the more work you turn out, the more keys you find to open new doors.I think in all of my films, “To Have and To Give”, “Captain”, “Not Knowing but Trusting”, “From Talking to Playing, and most recently, “School for Jazz”, I’ve wound up in one way or another exalting my film subject – holding them up as a beacon. Seeing in them all the best things that are to be seen in this life – for  me for sure, maybe to others. And after five films, I’m aware that this is a very important theme to me, perhaps my one and only theme.

For me, if I can come up with a good title that works on multiple levels – and that I can refer back to for guidance I feel that I’m off to a good start. “Father Soldier” felt like a good one to me – a perfect dichotomy! So I did a lot of interviewing with Father Leo, strung a narrative  together, then re-wrote it with with Father collaborating, ( I wasn’t going to let 60 years of literary background go to waste). I recorded Father Leo reading our script. Then I started to slog away, filming visuals and editing , filming and editing.   I knew I wanted to film nature in bad weather, the more extreme the better. I had no clear idea how I would use the footage I was collecting. But I felt that being out in snowstorms, windstorms, and cloudbursts would find there way into the film. And of course, since it’s my film, they did…

Next week I want to keep going thinking about and exploring my process…

The Monday Morning Blog…

Posted in Documentary on July 21st, 2014 by Dave

I’ve decided to begin a regular blog posting schedule covering a variety of film making subjects from production techniques and gear  I use to artistic concerns and preoccupations  in my own film making. I’ll publish each Monday morning at 9am. I’ll be enabling comments for this blog going forward and I hope to create a gathering of  curious and like-minded people.

Currently I’m in the final editing phase of my next film, “Father Soldier” which is turning out to be  an expressionistic sort of poem to an 88 year old World War ll combat veteran who returned from battle and became a catholic priest.

Freezes (10)

 

Father Leo Hetzler

I had met Father Leo at an Honor Flight reception for returning World War 2 veterans on a Sunday morning last year at the Rochester International airport. I had just finished a film about the beautiful and wonderfully gifted  New York City concert pianist  Mira Gill  and was filming bits of the reception in the main concourse of the airport with no real purpose in mind – just to to a little shooting . Then I turned around and saw this craggy, monumental, friendly face. He was sitting next to a friend who had also come to the airport. He had this wonderful, beaming presence about him.  I immediately struck up a conversation with him. The sound of his voice was rough and gravelly-an aural counterpart to that majestic face!

I was just very impressed with this person. In the picture above, you can just see the rifleman’s pin he wears everywhere. I just kept thinking, combat veteran fights all the way through Europe, has friends killed all around him, had to shoot to kill the enemy, then comes back to enter the priesthood. Was it for atonement?  A reaction at the carnage he witnessed?  Those were my initial questions.  And that was the beginning of  this particular film journey which I’ve been involved with over the last year – and which has evolved into something very different then what I had originally pre-supposed…

 

Transcribing Video Interviews – My Approach

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on January 21st, 2014 by Dave

 

I recently had over four hours of interviews to log and transcribe for a documentary film I’m working on, and although it is a tedious job, it’s a great way to re-listen to what the subject had to say away from filming, running audio, doing the lighting etc. For shorter interviews fitting into shorter projects, I’ll often just put the footage in the timeline, review the clips and  make notes, set markers or make subclips to note the parts of a given clip I want to keep, and then just edit away…

Back in the 1980’s I used to log all my footage with a pen and yellow legal pad. Spreadsheets  and word processing documents followed, but I found this approach cumbersome: You typed on a laptop while pressing play/pause on a video deck with a VHS time code burn of your footage.
When I decided to log and transcribe the footage for this current film, I was sure that technology would come to the rescue with some new software tool that would hopefully integrate with my editing software and allow me to create a transcript that was keyed to a particular clip with timecode,  and that would allow me to add descriptors like type of shot, camera angle, etc. The main thing I hoped for was a way to make it all searchable based on keywords I created. My web search yielded very little. In fact I was astonished that the topic was barely discussed online at all. There were certainly plenty of transcription services online that would do the work, but I wanted to kill two birds with one stone:  review the footage and save some money.

The editing software I use, Sony Vegas Pro 11, has media management software built in which helps you create a database of all your media assets spanning multiple projects, but I found it was prone to crashing, had an interface I wasn’t interested in learning,  and  didn’t really give me what  I needed anyway; which is to say a transcript of the interviewees narrative with time code location along with other descriptors I tend to invent to suit the job. Vegas does allow clips to be named and then renamed into subclips which are searchable, but did nothing to solve my transcription needs.

I wanted the transcriptions so I could develop a “paper edit” before actual editing. The paper edit would basically involve cutting, pasting, rearranging, and deleting the transcript. If I wanted to, I wanted to go “war room” and spread all the pages out on the floor to see the big picture, pace around, re-arrange, muse, ponder…you get the idea.

I tried software called InqScribe which was actually pretty nice;  it allows you to import your clips into it’s interface, view the clips in a preview window,  and insert the time-code of the portion of the clip you were working on into a text box. You then typed away as you watched and listened to the playback of the clip. It also allowed you to slow the speech down while maintaining  pitch – another nice feature. It was 100.00 which wasn’t bad, but then to make the process really speed up you needed to buy a foot pedal which would insert time-code into a text box field when pressed.  Without a foot-pedal, it takes two keystrokes,(CTRL +; in windows), to insert the time-code.  Another $60 – 100 bucks for a foot pedal… and then you still had to slave away with the typing.

Frustrated with my web searches and not wanting to plunk down cash if I didn’t have to, I began cast about for a home-grown solution.

I own an Ipod Touch 4.  I also had on hand a Home Edition of the Dragon Naturally Speaking Speech Recognition software, which cost me $50.00 a couple of years ago. So…I tried an experiment. I laid out all three hours and forty five minutes of   interview clips in the Vegas timeline – all butted together end to end. I rendered the footage out to a mp3 sound file, so I had the audio track only.

I swear, I may be alone out there, but it took me a solid two hours to import that mp3 file into Itunes and then sync it to the Ipod. I’m still not exactly sure exactly the sequence I used and I regret not having written the steps down as I worked, because what should have been a simple task turned out to be frustratingly  unnecessary – and I thank Apple for that.  Basically I had to use the Itunes File Menu to “Add a file to Library”, synced the Ipod, and then did a search for the file on the Ipod. I couldn’t find the file unless I searched for it.

Doubtless others out there may have had no problem with file transfers to their Ipod or phone –  but I sure as heck did.  I felt that Itunes wanted me to live only in their little world and that my own content was not welcome. I guess if I had uploaded my interviews to their store to sell, and charged .99 cents, I would would have been able to buy (or ransom), the dern thing back. Grrrrrrrrrr.

Well, I finally was able to play the interviews back on the Ipod. I fired up the Dragon, opened Word and created a two column table with one column labeled Time-code, and the other labeled Audio. Keeping it simple for now.  I put the headphones on that came with Dragon…and immediately took them off because it made me feel like I was in an Iron Maiden. I thought to myself, why do I need headphones? I took out my USB mike, just a 20.00 cheapie, plugged it in, pressed play on the Ipod and started dictating. And away I went. I did a paragraph, then two, speaking more naturally, (and faster), as I went along. The Dragon was picking up my speech nearly perfectly! Unbelievable. My wife was preparing dinner so the room I was in wasn’t entirely quiet but it didn’t seem to matter. To navigate I said, “Press Tab” , to move from one column to another.  Dragon has a lot of commands for moving around in your document, editing, correcting mistakes etc., but I only used a couple of commands to do my work.

Then I noticed something else about the Ipod interface. It has a jump forward 15 seconds and a jump back 15 seconds feature. If it hadn’t had that feature, it would have been impossible to nudge the playback a few seconds, given that the timeline in the Ipod was nearly 4 hours long. So if I didn’t get the last few words spoken by my interviewee, I could just touch the 15 second review icon and try again. Another great thing: if you’re in podcast mode, (which is where I placed my mp3), you can slow down the speech to half speed or speed it up all the way to 2x. That feature I knew about because I listen to a lot of podcasts speeded up.  But for my transcribing job,  I had it set to .5 playback and I just narrated, (slowly), but accurately and with no typing! Just me holding the Ipod in my left hand and pressing play and pause as I moved along in the dictation. After a while I moved it back to normal playback speed and I had no problem keeping up with the dictation – and neither did Dragon. As a matter of fact, I found the whole process to be relaxing, productive and FAST. The nearly 4 hours of dictation took most of the day, but it wasn’t the monster I had resigned myself to at all.

Now maybe you’re wondering how would I note time-code given that I was listening to an audio-only file. Remember I said I butted all my video clips together on the Vegas timeline? Well, the Ipod had it’s own little time counter and I checked it at various points against my clips in Vegas after I finished my work.  I was within a couple of seconds of my notation in the transcript all the way through my document. Not frame accurate, but definitely close enough for government work! And really, I wouldn’t have been counting frames anyway even if I could see the timecode.

This has proved to be a great solution for me. Others may have different solutions to this task and I would love to hear them. I consider the Dragon software to be fantastic.  Amazing. The software  recognized my dictation correctly at least 98 percent of the time. I had used the software previously but under different circumstances. I found that I just didn’t need it when I was actually composing a document.  That’s because I’m thinking , pausing, and then typing a little. I didn’t feel that speech recognition was all that useful for that kind of work. There would be errors and I’d have to go back and correct them anyway, so the time savings just didn’t add up.

But for rote transcription the combination of the Ipod, USB Mike, and Dragon Software worked beautifully. For my purposes, I didn’t care about small errors as long as the context is clear. My sweet little Dragon.  I feel listened to. I feel heard. Sweet.

Working With Film Subjects (2)

Posted in Documentary, Filmmaking on May 9th, 2013 by Dave

I’m no expert in producing films — I’ve only made five of them so far — but I do know that even one really bad experience can be a great teacher.

I spent about five months on a film last year, a profile of a local artist that ended up being nearly 25 minutes long. I thought the film’s subject — let’s call her “Anita,” for the sake of privacy — understood what I was going for in the film, but after screening the final edit, it turned out I was completely wrong.

Much to my surprise, Anita hated it!

I thought I’d done all my homework. I’d given Anita the edited audio track, essentially giving her an opportunity to “vet” the content. At that point, she liked it fine.

The real problems came when I showed her the first visuals. Anita disliked my visual interpretation of her work, and my characterization of her creative process.

Her reaction went beyond dislike. After several conversations by phone and by email, and many attempts to harmonize her wish-list with my vision, it became clear that there was no way I could please her. I felt I had no choice but to shelve the film.

It was truly amazing to me how our relationship changed in the blink of an eye. From cordial, cooperative, relaxed, and friendly to cold, abrupt, and…over. I was blown away — and I stayed blown away for quite some time.

This wasn’t just a bad “review;” this was a complete disaster. Five months of work with nothing to show for it. At least, publicly.

I hadn’t asked Anita to sign a release. At the beginning of the relationship, I felt I needed to build trust, not impose a legal constraint. This wasn’t negligence on my part, but instead a calculated decision. A release wouldn’t have provided me total protection anyway; in this country, a person can still sue if they want to.

After the relationship fell apart, I second-guessed myself. Perhaps having a signed document would have helped me go through the motions of releasing the film. But did I really want to release it under those terms? As an unauthorized bio?

That’s definitely not how I saw my role as filmmaker. Moreover, I felt I needed to take the high ground and respect Anita’s wishes. After all, the ultimate responsibility for her bad feelings lay with me as a producer, right?

In my mind, I felt I couldn’t breach Anita’s trust, even if I felt she was breaching mine. In the final analysis, it was her face on the big screen, not mine.

So I buried the film deep in my hard drive, where it resides to this day.

This chapter in my life as a filmmaker was painful and dispiriting, but over time I’ve come to see Anita’s perspective a little more clearly. I even see her disappointment as a kind of a mirror image of my own. I’ve gotten to the point where I can put the frustration out of my mind. More importantly, I’ve moved on to other projects.

A friend gave me some good advice: roll over it like a bump in the road.

He was right. What’s the alternative? Just give up? Never risk anything going forward?

I’ve learned some valuable lessons from this epic failure. These days, before I ever pick up a camera, I spend a lot more time getting to know my subjects — and letting them get to know me. I do everything I can to make sure they understand that this is a film about them, and not for them. There’s a big difference.

I’m not interested in making a puff piece or an infomercial. I have my own artistic goals. In the future, if the vibe starts trending towards conflict or instability, I think I’ll pick up on it much quicker, and either resolve the issue or consider aborting the project, long before I’ve put in months of work.

I’ll still share the progress of the film as it develops, and particularly while it’s being edited. That seems like a sensible precaution. I’m even posting weekly drafts of my latest film on a protected page of my website, so my subject always knows what’s happening.

No more, “The film is done, what do you think?” and then hope for the best. Springing the film on Anita, like I unfortunately did, was a huge gamble. I know that now.

I would have been better off buying a lotto ticket!

Working with a film subject…

Posted in Artist Profile, Captain, Documentary, Filmmaking on April 28th, 2013 by Dave

This will be the first of three posts on lessons learned from three of my films: Captain, and two artist bios…
Many and wondrous are the rewards garnered from working with a film subject. I mean “film subject” as in a person I’m interested in filming – and not a theme or topic per se.

The people I’ve filmed are people I like, find interesting, and who I find inspirational in one way or another. Someone I can learn from, someone who has something to share or who has qualities or traits that are elevated – even virtuous. Richard Updaw, the character I followed in Captain is certainly such a person. After meeting, getting to know, and ultimately making a film with Rich, I can finally say that I’ve met a man’s man, (I’d heard that expression throughout my life, but never really knew what it meant – or maybe I never knew an individual I could apply it to!). Dick is good looking, calm, confident, charming, down to earth, – and a born leader. Those were my impressions of him the day Ann, my wife, and I met him and they still hold true today. Amazing how those first impressions can be so dead-on… He rendered us Good Samaritan assistance by jump-starting our car which had developed a dead battery due to a case of my leaving-the-headlights-on-negligence. He was glad to help out. I noticed his Marine cap, of which he has an amazing assortment, and within moments were were talking about his days as a United States Marine, his time in Vietnam, and his own personal quest to learn more about a dead World War 2 vet that eventually became the basis for the film we made.

We socialized for at least a year (with no thought of making a film on my part), just enjoyable, regular get-togethers, until it finally dawned on me that Dick’s story about a long dead Marine could make a good film. And once I proposed the project, there was complete buy-in from Rich. So the timeline for the film was thus: we became friends, got to know each other pretty well, and then we made a film. I realize now that the trust bank that we had built up prior to making the film was the foundation for the success of the project.

There was never a time that Dick didn’t give complete cooperation to the needs of the film. He was always willing to accommodate my, “just one more shot”, requests. He respected my judgement during the editing/shaping of the story. And I learned to respect his wish that the story be focused on Robert Hodes, the 19-year old killed at Iwo Jima, and not himself. Ironically, in doing so I believe Dick’s character comes through all the stronger.

An example of Dick’s cooperation-and commitment to the project: when he became tearful during one interview, he didn’t pull in and ask me to remove the shot from the film. He realized it was true and authentic and was enough of a man to be easy-going about this private moment going public. Dick’s agenda was simple: to tell this forgotten Marine’s story. To that end he put his own ego a distant second … at least that’s the way I perceived it.

The film has received some good reviews, and our friendship has continued. Rich still comes to dinner regularly even though he’s a busy guy. At 67, he drives school bus everyday AND maintains a 60 acre farm by himself. He has lots of pets. Cats, dogs, horses, goats, and a mule with that lets go, when he thinks he should be fed, with a bray that reminds me of the alien mother ship from Close Encounters of The Third Kind letting loose with that window-shattering volley of notes…(go to 5:58 in this utube clip to understand my rather obscure reference)

Anyway, looking back I know the film benefited from the trust brought about by our prior relationship. We both knew enough about each other to know that we had each other’s best interests at heart – and that ultimately came to include the best interests of the film as well… So the takeaway moral, for me at least from this experience, is do your homework! Develop a relationship with your film subject. Find out who they are and go with your gut about first impressions, but in the words of Ronald Reagan, “trust but verify”. Do it not only to make a better film, in the sense of delving deeply into your subject, but to ensure that you ultimately avoid the disaster of not having a film at all.

My next post will talk about lessons learned from an experience that didn’t turn out so well…

The many qualities of quality…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking, Mira Armij Gill on April 21st, 2013 by Dave

I’m finishing up my film on concert pianist Mira Gill who lives, performs, and teaches in New York City. The film is a little bio/profile of a wonderfully gifted artist with an equally strong artistic spirit. Material for this film has come from a variety of sources; family photos, scrapbook items from Mira’s youth, footage I shot in NYC and Maine, archival footage in the public domain, and finally some low quality footage shot of Mira performing with the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra at age 15.

The footage in the clip below barely approaches VHS quality, (and that’s being kind), and to make matters worse, perhaps in extended play mode which would give it that worst possible quality look that we all love of course. A cave painting shot filmed through a fish bowl – you get the idea. It was a wide shot so Mira, occupies just a small section in the frame. At first, I thought, no way – the footage looks really crappy – it’s going to look even worse surrounded by the HD footage I shot for the film. I can’t use it, can I? Then I played it a couple of more times. Again, the footage was so poor you can just make out that it might be Mira – or not! (trust me, I have a signed affadavit!).

I kept replaying the clip, and each time I looked at it I liked it more. It finally dawned on me that this is the real power of art: that as bad as the picture quality was, the performer and the orchestra surrounding her broke through the quality barrier…to freedom! Once I knew I’d be using it, I blew up the frame in several places, pushing the quality lower and the impact higher. I did this so that I’d be able to punctuate the performance with a couple of cuts. The one at the crescendo of the piece is perfect – the cut from the super close-up of Mira, in all her pixellated glory, to the wide shot as the music finishes. I think it works really well – judge for yourself.

Throughout the editing of this film, I found myself getting caught up in the performance each time I passed it in the film. In fact it became more thrilling each time I played it…the performance of this 15 year old phenomenon and the the community orchestra that rose to the occasion and played for all they were worth. They were like a freight train barreling down the tracks. For me the clip I’d like to share below is one of my all-time favorites in my own mental cinematic archives, …and I’m thrilled to be using it in my film.