Thinking Out Loud – With Dave Esposito

Posted in Filmmaking on September 29th, 2014 by Dave

“Jerk me a hair out of old Jumper’s Tail!”

“Father Soldier” to air on WXXI-PBS

Posted in Filmmaking on September 23rd, 2014 by Dave

Subject of the film of "Father Soldier", a film by Dave Esposito

Subject of the film of “Father Soldier”, a film by Dave Esposito

I just got word that our local PBS Station, WXXI, would like to broadcast my Film “Father Soldier”. No additional details at this point but I’ll keep you posted when I have a date(s)!

The Tip of the Iceberg…

Posted in Documentary, Filmmaking, Video Blog on September 22nd, 2014 by Dave

Last Film, Next Film…

Posted in Documentary, Filmmaking, Video Blog on September 15th, 2014 by Dave

Please feel free to comment. I, (and I’m sure others), would appreciate hearing your thoughts about how you work on your own films – or other artwork for that matter!

Thanks, Dave Esposito

Announcing a new Video Blog by Dave Esposito

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking, Video Blog on September 13th, 2014 by Dave

I’m happy to invite you to my new video blog that will be posted each Monday morning at 9am beginning Monday, September 15th. I’ll discuss a whole range of film making topics from methods and gear to my own thoughts about storytelling. I hope you’ll join me!

Approaching my next project…

Posted in Documentary, Editing, Filmmaking on September 1st, 2014 by Dave

 

Friendship Film

Evolving “Mind Map” for my next film on the theme of Friendship.

As I’ve progressed as a film maker though half a dozen film  projects, I’ve gradually changed how I conceive, work on, and execute my films. More and more I find myself moving  towards a completely organic way of doing things. For me, this means having lots of things going on at once…and being ready to follow a whim at a moment’s notice. To me, a whim, a glimpse, a half-formed image in my head, are all-important because they provide clues to what my story is about. Where it’s heading, what it is and what it might be.

In previous films, I’d find a subject; a clothing designer, a pianist, a Vietnam veteran. I’d ask them to tell their story,  then add the trimmings of  music and visuals to amplify their tales. Of course, I had a lot of selecting and editing to do in order to arrive at a narrative that presented a distilled summary of my subject. And on the whole,  I think these films  turned out to be fair to middling. But I wasn’t all that aware of my own drives, needs, and yearnings as an added character that I unconsciously brought to each film. In retrospect, I believe I approached these subjects from the outside looking in…

Father Soldier” changed all that for me. I think, at first glance, the film might seem to be a repetition of my previous working methods…Interviews edited then illustrated with sound and visuals. I guess, loosely speaking, that working method could be said of almost any documentary.

In order to give myself a reason to make a film about Father Leo, I spent a lot of time thinking about why I was drawn to his character. His personal story was on the interesting side, no denying that.  But I became more and more aware as I struggled for a reason to commit to this project that what I found most interesting about my subject was the perfection of his life. That given a fine constitution, a good mind, and the nurturing environment of a golden childhood, he not only was able to take on World War II, withstand the loss of many buddies including his best friend, but additionally, weather the  associated trauma of actually witnessing their deaths.

I can’t even imagine what that must have been like. How does a person go on after experiencing that kind of devastation? Maybe you “survive”, but can you ever really live, flourish and be there for others? How does your best friend actually dying in your arms not be the defining moment of your life? Which is exactly the answer I expected when I asked Father Leo what his defining moment was. His answer, delivered with no hesitation, was that becoming a priest was that moment, that experience of a lifetime. That really hit me! So I spent a lot of time trying to come up with imagery and sound that expressed loss, grief, solace, and redemption. I filmed a lot in bad weather so that I could use nature to amplify my character’s thoughts and emotions.  Portraits of trees strong and bending, the rustle of the wind, the soft blanketing comfort of snow falling , rain and moving water. So many different emotions can be projected on these natural forces…

It seems to me that whether it’s choosing to be a priest, a teacher, a toll booth operator or an artist, there is a moment of decision that defines each life.  For some it might be a terrible ordeal, like a war,  and then a decision point as to whether to seek life and meaning – or to live in or re-experience the past. For others it might be a long search, with no real external trauma influencing anything.  A long search…and finally an answer to the direction of one’s life.

Stanley Kubrick once said that existence was entirely meaningless , and that given that fact,  it then becomes the job of each human being to create that meaning.  I like what Kubrick says because essentially  choosing one’s life path becomes a creative decision.  And  it’s a job.

 

 

 

 

 

“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…

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.

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!