Demo Reel and Cinematography self-critique

Well it’s the end of the year, for me anyway, and I guess just as good a time as any to write some reflections. When I made my first film last year I made it with the intent to learn about filmmaking. I’m not good in a classroom setting. I have a hard time retaining information by reading it in a book and taking notes. I have to do things to learn them. I made what I thought was a good short film. Got some feedback and some notes from people both in and out of “the industry” and set a goal for 2019. That goal was to make 10 short films in the year. Mission failed, but really, a success because even though I didn’t make 10 full shorts I did learn at least twice as much about filmmaking as I did in 2018; so to quote Professor Hulk “I see this an absolute win!”

2019 Project Reel

First up, Burgers!

I had a lot of fun working on this and it was the only project I did any “making of” videos because doing “making of” videos by yourself is stupid, or at least feels stupid, but some people liked it so naturally…I didn’t do it again, maybe next year. It’s a dry comedy and the script idea came to me while sitting in a corporate lunch room and simply overhearing a similar conversation. I of course embellished some details. I learned a lot about lighting and shot composition for this. Please… Consider the following-

The eye immediately gravitates to the brightest “thing” in a shot. So you need to make sure the “what” you want the audience to pay attention to is what they’re focusing on.
Other than my poor brother in law looking kinda creepy, why is he here? He doesn’t really add depth to the shot or establish that anybody else is in the room by himself.
There’s a lot of just dead space in this shot and completely messes with the setting of a “corporate” cafeteria. It’s supposed to be a wide but I could have spent more time playing with the shot to be able to capture the action and also get something that didn’t look so…”indie”.

I can’t really show a lot of lighting examples just because I was working with both the gym lights and some 50K CFL’s with diffusers. I used your typical three point lighting for all of the closeups which turned out better than not using any lighting at all.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s day was an idea I had while driving home from work one day. It sort of just popped into my head so I “speech-to-text” wrote a note in my phone and started working on the script that night. I decided to explore the taboo of mental illness, specifically degenerative diseases of the mind and how we treat those who suffer from this blight. I used the lessons I learned from Burgers to create better shot compositions but the lighting is all natural. I did some very basic color correction because I honestly liked the flatter colors of the Rebel T6 (which I used to shoot everything except Good Works). Also one very nice YouTuber cautioned me in the use of “cinebars” for films like this. Check the comments in the video for the full details of his critique.

Opening shot, Charlie here is cutting potatoes but I never actually showed him doing that which could have been disorienting to the audience as in the next shot, Maddie walks in and just starts talking to him as we hear the chop chop chop of the knife.
Good closeup comp, but still with the issue of a bright light in the background. I decided not to reframe this or change angles because her head was covering the window most of the time.
Finally we get to see wtf this kid was doing the whole time.
I actually got a lot of compliments for this shot but it could have been framed better and still kept the chain in the foreground. I actually ripped the chain off the nail that was holding it up and smashed my toe during this take. No big deal.

Butterfly Social

This music video is, as of writing this blog, unreleased. A link will be provided as soon as it is available for viewing.

This was a fun project where I really got to play with my camera and editing in Premiere. All of my best friends were involved in this so I love the project a little more because of that.

Spent a good two hours in After Effects. Fun program, haaaaaard learning curve.
More kinda cautionary dead space and we really shouldn’t have had black on black with the lighting we used, however, it’s still an attractive shot and gives a good feel to the space of the room.
This shot actually happens kinda quick but I love it. You can never have too many closeups.
Light switches and outlets. I hate them. Ugly house in the BG and bright light that we were using to help light the scene but could have probably suffered to diffuse it from the outside a bit. Meh…
Forgive me, Angelia. Anyway, this is an example of what can happen when you neglect to do “dailys”. Notice the change in lighting and position of the head. The subject is also closer to the camera on the left than on the right. It looks okay in the actual video but since we’re doing a critique…Do dailys.
This is actually a good use of dead space, because it’s not actually “dead” as the pattern is interesting to look at and story wise you can guess this person is probably a loner.

Dangerous Dreams

This video will probably never be released as it was a passion project for me; a music video I made for the band Lebrock. This stars yours truly and I spent the majority of my creativity on the colors and VHS look to the video. I hired a camera op to film me and used basic shots with some movement and “80’s shots”. Maybe if in the future I can convince the band to let me use their song for this video I can show more of it, for now you get these awesome screen grabs :p

Good Works

The final creative project of the year and definitely my best work to date. This was a for a horror film competition in Cincinnati, OH and as you can read in the laurels, did pretty well 🙂

UGH! Another indie film that opens with the main character waking up to an alarm clock. Yeah, sue me, but you don’t actually see her “waking up” and I used this to introduce an immediate conflict to get your attention back.
See?! Who is that? Why are they watching her?
I thought this was a really cool POV shot and you could argue that the business on the right side of the screen is distracting but overall, a good wide POV. Can you spot the boom pole?
When you watch the film, the camera slowly moves towards Sam’s face but it’s a little shaky. The moral of this story is to invest in a motorized slider.
This is one of my favorite shots in the film. Composition wise it’s cinematic, good colors, and a great look of fear from the actor 🙂
Even though this shot was slowly zooming in on the subject, the framing scalps the actor which looks awkward so starting the shot with a little more head room would have compensated for the zoom.
Right: was my original shot idea because I wanted to use the window as misdirection for a ghost watching her through another window offscreen. Left: Shot critique from a friend who previewed a rough cut of the film. She thought the house looked ugly and there’s SO much space above the actor that she kind of looks like a Muppet. The image on the left is so much more visually appealing because nature is prettier than house panels. It’s also a better shot because we don’t have all that disorienting dead space. Thanks Angelia.
My other favorite shot setup and what I think is a good use of bi-color lighting (which 9/10 times I think looks fucking stupid). I used two red LEDs mounted in Home Depot reflector cans behind the Devil actor and a single 50K LED panel light pointed at Sam from down the hallway and diffused everything with a fog machine. The result is a gorgeous contrast of color giving the devil a menacing, ominous silhouette, while shrouding Sam in a cool, almost twilight, blue/white glow. I love love love this look.

I can confidently say I am a better filmmaker now than I was a year ago. That may not seem like much to some and too bold a statement to others but when you look at the first thing I tossed on YouTube and compare it to the last film I made in 2019, there is hardly any argument that progress had been made. I still have a lot of learning to do, and I don’t really believe I’ll ever stop learning about how to make good films. I like good stories, and I actually like the grind that is making a film. Everything worth doing is hard and if you just pull yourself up by the bootstraps you CAN make a good film.

I didn’t mean to turn this reflection and self critique into an inspirational post but to any of you reading this who are either new filmmakers or are wanting to be one, following my journey should be a good learning opportunity just for the sake of being able to see what kind of obstacles will get in your way. I’m not saying my process is good or even right and I’ll most likely end up changing it over the years but so far, it works for me and I’ve been happy with the content I’ve produced with it. Next year is looking great and it is my full intention to begin production on my first feature length film and I am swearing an oath to myself and to you, dear reader, that I will document that entire journey starting with my next blog post. It will be boring, it will not be fun until we get into at least the casting phase, but I swear I will share everything I can, when I can, even if just for me to look back on that road.

I think I’m starting to ramble so I’ll stop writing now. Now. Okay now.

Everything worth doing is hard.

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