Archive for the ‘video’ Category

the magic formula for theatrical glory

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

I really don’t know what to do with the data life hands me sometimes. A coupla weeks ago I finished the run of a play. I was acting as Marley, and half a dozen minor roles, in a one-hour adaptation of A Christmas Carol at the Mendocino Theatre Company. It was a smashing success. Why?

I’ve done many shows at MTC. I’ve acted, I’ve stage managed, I’ve directed, etcetera, so forth, and so on. The typical MTC production goes something like this: A bunch of people toil away for months (for little or no pay), trying to squeeze every subtle, meaningful nuance out of an excellent script. The show opens. About twenty or so people a night show up. They yawn. They clap politely at the end, then they promptly forget about the whole thing.

This production started as a staged reading. We’ve always known that Christmas shows are great from a marketing standpoint, but they’re tough to pull off, as everybody is already tooo busy during the holiday season. But people should be able to make time to fling together a staged reading.

The staged reading thing turned into a cartoon snowball rolling down a mountain. We got a pianist. We got cute kids to sing songs to open the show. We choreographed a little dance number. We got nice costumes. We got an elegant lighting design. We learned our lines.

Once the show opened, we has a little show that was… I don’t know… elegant? meaningful?

Whatever it was, it did well at the box office, pretty much selling out nearly all the shows. And people seemed genuinely moved by it, too. But what were the keys to its success? The familiar story? Dickensian magic? The lean, condensed adaptation? The acting?

What lessons is MTC supposed to draw from the show? Stick to familiar material? Short shows? Simple, emotional plays? Keep the staging very simple? Make sure there are always some cute kids in every show?

I’m flummoxed.

But, you can see the show for yourself and derive the formula for theatrical glory. The show’s on Youtube.

adventures up north

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

I’ve been having too many adventures, and getting too little work done. We recently took a week long camping/family trip up to Oregon. Several blog post worthy event happened on that trip. I’ll try to briefly cover a couple of them here.

Vaux’s Swifts in Eugene

The day after a family reunion, a cousin of mine performed in a big band concert in a park in Eugene. After the show, we were standing around talking, and I noticed the sky was suddenly full of thousands of small birds, which I took to be swallows. The locals knew right away; the birds were swifts, not swallows, and they were gathering to roost together in an old chimney a couple of blocks from the park. We walk over to watch.

It’s hard to describe the spectacle of a swirling tornado of thousands of birds getting sucked into a large chimney. Fortunately, I caught it on video so I don’t have to try too hard to describe it with words. The subhead above links to my YouTube video. Make sure you watch it in HD, the low def version is awfully gooey.

Before the Europeans Came and Messed Everything Up, swifts roosted in hollow standing snags in old growth forests. Fortunately for the swifts, as the Europeans knocked down the forests they built chimneys. Now, many of the old chimneys are being razed, but the old growth forests are still gone.

Bad Boy Elk

On the way back, Andi and I stopped briefly near Prairie Creek Redwoods to watch the Elk. This elk herd is famous; they hang out right next to Highway 101 and the Newton Drury Parkway, so thousands of tourists see and photograph them every year.

The late summer is a transition time for male elk. Earlier in the year, they’re remarkably docile for such big wild creatures. In the fall rut, they are aggresive towards everybody, especially other male elk.

When we first saw the herd, two males were locking horns in a half-hearted preliminary bout. We parked on a little side road next to the highway. We walked around a little, trying to get good sight lines, photo light, and a safe working distance. There was a wide pathway between two clumps of trees which crossed the side road, connecting two large meadows. Several elk, a mix of females and young males, were grazing calmly on that pathway about fifty feet from the road. I took a few minutes of video. It was a close range and good light, but the elk weren’t doing anything real interesting, so the video is a bit on the blah side.

As this group of elk grazed, they were gradually moving towards me and about a dozen other observers/photographers who had gathered in that spot. I figured they were gradually moving towards the other meadow across the road. They were getting a little close for my comfort level, and I believe in always yielding the right of way to big strong wild creatures, even if they’re herbivorous; so I walked back to the car and put away my camera.

Andi was still watching the elk, and the phalanx of photographers, from behind our car, so I kept watching, too. The elk continued to move toward the road; the photo phalanx stayed in position, picking up a few more members. The elk group now had all categories of camera pointed at it: cell phones, point and shoots, video cameras, even one over-equipped guy with a long-lensed digital SLR on a tripod, another SLR around his neck, and a vest full of accessories.

One of the female elk crossed through the phalanx and onto the side road. The people parted just enough to let her through. She was clearly nervous, stamping her feet and looking around anxiously. Yet, the photo tourists mostly stayed put. Suddenly, a big bull elk burst onto the scene, apparently protecting his lady. He bluff charged the over-equipped photographer, who skedaddled quickly behind a car. The humans were yielding more space to the elk all of a sudden, but it wasn’t enough for the bull. He charged the car behind which the OEP and others were hiding with a mighty CRASH of antler on metal and tinkle of antler on glass.

As near as I could tell, no humans were hurt. The woman in the part of the car closest to the charge looked rather stunned, unsurprisingly. The car suffered a broken window, a big dent on the door, and several large scratches. The bull elk suffered a headache.

Maybe, just maybe, a few tourists learned a lesson about yielding the right of way to large wild animals.

Canon Vixia HFS 100: first impressions

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Yippee! My new video camera arrived yesterday. A new learning curve to climb. Oh, boy.

So far, I’ve had a little time to fiddle with it, I’ve walked around the area to do some actual shooting, I’ve imported some footage into Final Cut Pro, I’ve looked at raw footage on a TV/monitor, and I’ve tried to connect an external mic (a Rode VideoMic).

A few quickie notes:

Final Cut Pro 6.0.0 doesn’t work with this model; you need to update to at least 6.0.4. It took me a while to figure that one out; maybe typing that in my blog will save someone some time. Once you’ve got a current-enough version of FCP, your footage can be edited with a simple command-shift-8, “log and transfer”.

The “mini advanced shoe” on this model is non-standard, so I couldn’t just plop the Rode mic on it. Grrr… I’ve opted to order a little adapter gizmo from B&H Photo rather than mangle my new mic to make it fit. It’ll be a few days before I get to see how well the adapter works.

The footage from the HFS 100 is gorgeous. It’s vastly sharper than the footage from my old Samsung. The colors pop, and it handles contrast pretty well. Wow. I’ll try to get a little YouTube video posted in the next few days.

I also ordered some lighting gear from an ebay store called Ephotodiscounters. I couldn’t find much info about them online except their ebay customer ratings. We’ll see how that works out.

Plunging into video production

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

For several years now, it’s seemed inevitable that I’d take a serious plunge into the shark-infested waters of video production. The inevitability has a lot to do with some sort of metaphorical mathematics: theatre + photography + computer graphics = video. Or something like that.

A year and a half or so ago, I bought a cheap little Samsung SC-DC575 video camera. I realized that this cheap little thing would get frustrating quickly, and I was right on that front. Nevertheless, I’ve been using footage from it to learn Final Cut Pro, and get a sense of what sorts of shots translate well into the new (for me) medium. For example, no matter how lovely the scenery, handheld walking shots never work as anything other than scary clichés; we always expect someone with a machete to pop out from behind a bush and chop us to bits. I’m still trying to figure out ways of capturing the feel of nice, quiet hikes on video.

Recently, one of my web/graphic design clients offered to fund my plunge as an advance on future work. This set off a batch of research projects and contemplations: which camera? can I get indoor shooting space? how much/which light and sound equipment should I get right away? what sorts of productions am I going to do, anyway? is the shed at my house big enough to set up a little chroma key rig?

On the gear front, the recurring theme is the giant chasm between “consumer” gear and “professional” gear. In the camera realm, the best consumer cameras top out at a little over $1000; the pro cameras start at about $3000. It’s a similar tale with tripods, microphones, lights, etc. I can’t afford the pro gear, and I don’t want cheap junk. The adventure is finding the best gear I can afford, and using the still camera gear I have when it’ll work well.

The decisions are starting… I’ve ordered a Canon Vixia HF S100 camera from the always reliable The Canons seem to have the best lenses and features in the prosumer realm; the only competition I was seriously considering after the first round was a Panasonic model. The Canon S100 has a more expensive sibling, the S10, which costs $300 more and has 32GB on board memory. When I checked the prices on compatible flash memory—$75 for a 32GB card—I giggled a little and ordered the S100. The camera should arrive in a couple of days. I’ll blog about it and post a YouTube clip quickly.

In anticipation of many large files, I’ve also ordered a couple of new, large harddrives. A 1TB external drive for backups, and a 1.5TB internal drive for the main video files and projects. A 1.5 Terrabyte harddrive for $160. The mind reels.

Sound. Arg. On camera microphones really suck. Cheap microphones really suck. Pro microphones are too expensive. So, what to do? On the one hand, the reviews say the on board mic on the Canon S100 are better than most. Plus, with flash memory, there’s no motor sound. So maybe, just maybe the on board mic would be adequate. For some projects. After several hours of research, I decided to get a Rode VideoMic, too. It should be a big improvement, especially in eliminating extraneous noises. I found a “blemished” one at a firm called for a little over a hundred bucks. We’ll see.

Lights. I’m still in research mode on this one. I might start with newfangled compact fluorescent bulbs for my old photo flood lights, or mayble I’ll get some umbrellas or softboxes with a backdrop stand and greenscreen background.

Forward and onward…


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