in which some excellent progress is made

Amazing how much can be done when one applies seat of pants to seat of chair. After a rather considerable period of reading too much news and going hither and yon such that I didn't apply myself to the task of editing "Roscoe" footage until 3:30 or 4:00 in the afternoon, finally in the last 15 hours I've knocked out pretty complete versions of three scenes. Admittedly they are simple, short scenes. But having all the material there, with a variety of alternatives to work through, is a wonderful thing. It truly is possible to have the picture mostly edited by the end of this week. Only one scene to go: the killer Eighth Scene, in which the Truth is revealed, but Nothing is known for Certain.

The wonders of computer video editing. It is possible to have several working clips, or shots, open in windows called Viewers, at the same time. So the master shot gets loaded into the Timeline, and then all that I have to do is go back and forth between the close up inserts and drop pieces of my two actors  into the master shot that's already on the Timeline. With a little tweaking to the sound to drop out any cue lines that might appear from off screen, add some ambient "room tone", and the thing is pretty much assembled. So much simpler than agonizing over what pieces to use in a documentary. This is feeling pretty good right now, and I'm looking to do this fictional short thing again. Let's not wait another twenty-five years this time.


king corn


a feature - not a bug

homage to Shepard

When was the last time you used a piece of software that had a feature that the documentation described as doing exactly what you needed to do? And then when you used the feature it did EXACTLY what you expected and wanted?

Such is the joy of the first usage of a filter in Final Cut Pro 7 called "SmoothCam." Admittedly, it took ten minutes to analyse a piece of video 3 seconds 19 frames long - apparently it has to look at the entire clip from which those ninety-one frames come. I didn't ask the software to do much - simply smooth out a camera that bounced a little from actors walking across the floor.

This is going to be my excuse for why there isn't much movement during this interior scene: if I'd had them walk around, the floor would have been bouncing the camera in a totally uncontrolled manner. The 7D should probably have been mounted on the Steadicam instead of a tripod - or some mount attached to the ceiling instead of the floor. (Which reminds me of a stereo installation from the recesses of my past where I suspended the turntable from the ceiling of the room, since I knew that walking across the room would make the tone arm bounce unacceptably. I don't think the landlord was too keen on the holes left in the ceiling when I departed.) Or maybe several thousand pounds spread around the floor to dampen out the movement. You would think that the several thousand pounds of machinery already in the shop would have done the trick, along with the massive shop bench included in the master shot.

Rarely does a filter work the way I want it to. Nice to see that software can come to the rescue of a shot that would have been eliminated without the filter.


on the other hand

Boston in July? Why not?

We'd never been, but it wasn't on a whim that we travelled this far into foreign territory. Months ago, after acquisition of one of motion picture technology's most favored devices - a Steadicam Pilot - it was recommended by one and all that a workshop should be included along with the Steadicam. The workbook is a great start, but the hands-on approach is a quick way to vault up the learning curve. At the time, the Boston workshop was the closest time wise as well as geographically.

In the few months between signing up for the workshop and actually attending in Boston, I've been able to get in a good bit of practice, find various balance combinations that do or don't work, and employ the device in the production of a short film, the self produced "Walking With Roscoe."

While the location of our hotel was less than ideal for direct access to famous tourist sites in Boston (it was chosen to be within walking distance to the workshop), public transportation in the Boston area is superb. The CharlieCard, which can be purchased in all the subway stations, permits access to the subway trains as well as the buses. It keeps an electronic record of the fare paid initially, rides deducted, and can be replenished electronically as many times as desired. Something this intelligent is bound to help immesureably with getting people to use public transportation. Which the Boston area residents surely do. Buses and trains are nearly always full, and they run on a frequent schedule.

It would seem that all the classes and workshops I take I already have a fairly good grasp of the material prior to arrival. This seemed to be the case with this workshop as well. At least I know the theory. The practice requires A LOT more practice. What our instructor, Director of Technical Services at Steadicam, Peter Abraham was particularly emphatic about is learning to use the Steadicam to carry a camera in a manner that truly emulates how a human witnesses the present. Or at least be aware of the manner of human presence, to create movement that contradicts the smoothed, rounded corners, short cutted way we travel through life.

Day 1 was theory and basic movement.

Day 2 was practice operating three different shots designed by Peter that permitted us to branch out and work in various spaces around the Rule/Boston Camera facility. Shot 1 was with the Panasonic AG-AF100 Micro 4/3 camera on a Pilot rig, and utilized a Don Juan move in the middle of the shot. Shot 2 used some large Panasonic video camera & lens on the Zephyr rig in low mode, camera flipped upside down and the monitor up top. A lot of gear to move around, it never felt very comfortable. Shot 3 was with a Sony PMW F3, a Zeiss 18mm CP2 prime, on a Scout rig. This was our Grand Prix shot, the only one recorded during the weekend. In fact, everyone looked pretty good.

And it was pretty nice to return home and be able to offer some Steadicam work to someone else the following day.


& then there was 1: roscoe day 6

 photo by Alex Morgan

Even though the work had proceeded fairly steadily and without any major difficulties, I was still ready for it to be over and done with. But there was one more scene to finish off - the major revelation of the story. We had been rained out the day previous when attempting this scene. Cast and crew assembled one final time, on a Thursday morning.

Once again I decided that there was no reason to drive ten minutes away and subject ourselves to the unknowns of an open field location. It's not substantially different than what was planned, and the edit will expand the field of view to include the original concept. But I still feel as if I took the easy way out, and probably should have pushed myself a little harder. Second guessing now has me wondering if this was the right decision to make. OTOH, the "finished product" will not feel significantly different than if we had taken the trouble to troop into the field and get a location with "views".

The image maker in me was at a loss as to how to simply conclude our experimental "trip." I told myself that the editor was going to have to rely upon the power of the performances to make the piece work. With that directorial abdication of responsibility, I was able to push onward and continue in the vein that already had been worked steadily: the master shot/medium close up/close up progression.

I must have been anxious enough to get done with this portion of the enterprise that I called a wrap before we had completed the final shot - which is numbered differently, and encompasses a slightly different set of actions. Fortunately my collaborator C. MacDonald returned within minutes to remind me that we lacked the final scene. This is why I need someone watching over what I do, to remind me to finish all the parts in a timely fashion, so that bits aren't left out with the need to gather everyone again at a later date.

As with anything, practice. It's disappointing that these kinds of short gatherings can't be done on a more regular basis. It's only through frequency that techniques can improve. Time to get moving on plans for the next one.

A huge thanks to cast & crew. This stuff definitely can't be done alone. Upward and onward with editing.



roscoe day 5, pt 2


Green screen

Unknown talent

A new sound recordist

Swing Dance class next door

15 minutes of passing coal train

Don't forget to turn off the air conditioning

Be sure to turn the air conditioning back on

5 hrs - more or less - start to finish

But does it fit in the film?

The editor will decide.


roscoe day 5


By this point we had completed everything in the script except for three scenes. It looked to be a long, complicated day of exteriors, followed by four or five hours in a studio where I'd never worked before. Realizing that there was a good chance of not being able to finish on what was scheduled to be our final day before the camera, the producer in me decided to change locations to somewhere eminently more manageable: our back yard.

The scene in which the Professor balks at going any farther went from getting his coat snagged on a branch to jumping through some tall grass across a hidden trickle of water. A better solution, and much simpler to execute, was to use the small channel on our side yard. It's one of my favorite locations anyway, and have been photographing it off and on for the past four months.

This compromise was an improvement I feel good about. The scene was completed with no wasted time or undue effort, no need to drive to another location, and set up multiple times in an inaccessible field. The equipment then got transfered to a new location a minute away and 100 feet from the back door of the house. As I was considering where to set the camera again, the precipitation that had held off so far began. We moved everything to the breezeway and waited. Ralph and I have been through this waiting game many times before, so this was nothing unusual. After 30 or 40 minutes of steady rain, and checking with everyone present that they could return the following morning, I cancelled our afternoon schedule. It's still a wrenching call to make, especially since I knew the rain would probably cease within an hour.

Which of course it did. But by then everyone was long gone. It would have been too long a wait to ask everyone to sit through. Instead it gave Craig and me some time to search for props and pick up the wheel chair for our evening interior.


roscoe day 4

Already the inevitable "When's it going to be done?" rears its head.

Merely another step along the way, the production phase, or "shooting" if you will, is the most obvious manifestation of one's intent to proceed towards a goal. But the goal - my goal - is not to have an end product, despite the desires and needs of the consumer culture. As Mike Chisholm has pointed out here (scroll down the comments), viewers may not care one jot how much trouble someone went to to obtain an image. All they care about is the power of the final product, whether it be a print in a gallery/museum, or a book, or online. Or more specifically, a finished film to watch. Because really, who cares about my process of becoming a more accomplished image maker? That's something internal to me, of no consequence, except what products I create along the way that are evidence of my process.

My goal is to find out what combinations of talent, personnel, and technology I am capable of.

"Roscoe" will probably be done when I finish working on it. Sharing will come slowly.


roscoe day 3


It's all over now, baby blue. But I'm going to rehash it for those of you who weren't here anyway.

Despite his hesitancy to participate in a local event, and even be photographed doing so, our trained professional gamely agreed to march in the Earlysville Fourth of July Parade. Maybe the scene is not in the script. Maybe no one would have consented approval. It was too good an opportunity to pass up.

I strapped on my vest, and used the Pilot to follow our Professor as he weaved his way across the street, through the parade, to try to find access to a locked office on the far side. On the first take of this cross parade move, as I was walking backwards in front of Craig, I nearly backed into a news camera set up on a tripod. That would have been a sight to see a camera and tripod go down with the operator of a fully rigged Steadicam. I got a last moment warning that directed me away.

At the far end of our progress into the parade, after passing numerous pedestrians and vehicles of various ages, one driver opined loudly, "Is he a Republican or a Democrat? Do I need to take him out?" At that point it became clear to me that the Professor, in his jacket and bow tie, looked much like an undeclared candidate.

All in all, some wonderful material that will fit nicely at the head of the piece. It would have been an entirely different thing if both characters had been in the parade, as I originally planned. This works better in fact.


roscoe day 2

Another great day shooting "Walking With Roscoe" yesterday. As always, lighting interiors goes on and on and on. Even I ran out of patience. Eventually we had to get moving. I'm very proud to report that I had told people we'd be done by 4 pm, and we got in the van and pulled away from the location - Barratt Woodworking - at 4:02 pm.

The initial nervousness has calmed somewhat, but it seems as if every day it starts over again. I'm running on only four or five hours of sleep every night (last night I awoke and the power was still off from the previous evening, so what have I got to worry about but not being able to get in touch with the crew and Gary about the oversight of calling all to the wrong location for Tuesday), and am still not familiar enough with this kind of work that each day's challenges don't throw me into a state of anxiety. Many variables that are mostly new. Despite that, once we get going, it's much like running a construction job where there are people coming at you all day long. Which lends a certain degree of familiarity, enough so that I eventually am able to get moderately comfortable in the environment.

What I am truly thankful for is the assistance. There really is no way of doing this sort of thing by yourself. My three previous artists videos were done completely as solo efforts - other than the artist subjects - but anything scripted really benefits from having others contribute their unique knowledge. It's wonderful to be able to ask people to work on a task and have them go to it while I go check on something else.


Roscoe day 1

unused location

Well well well... we got through the first day of shooting "Walking With Roscoe." What a relief. I think most of the anxiety has finally passed. There's still a lot of work to be done, but at least it now seems like there's a chance we can get through the majority of it.

Crew is fabulous.

Cast is working incredibly hard.

At times it really was fun. And in fact I do have things to say to the actors other than placement of them in the frame, but it's this that I've become quite particular about. I know by now what a decently composed photograph looks like, so know where people need to be in order for it to work.

Time to transfer some "footage". Which is yet another holdover of a term that is bound to disappear some day.


less than 1 week to go

During the summer solstice of 2006, good friend and collaborator Craig MacDonald and I travelled to Scotland for geneological reasons. He wanted to find information about family who had emegrated from the island of South Uist to the New World in the 19th century. Along the way we sampled the cuisine - if you consider haggis and neeps & tatties as such - the landscapes (seen here and here), and the inhabitants - many of whom seemed to be transplanted Brits. On the beach in Skye one morning, the midgies sampled us. At times I felt like the expedition photographer, occasionally straining for something other than a tag along role.

Upon returning to our respective homes, Mr. MacDonald graciously offered to permit me to generate the itinerary for the next trip we would take together. Becoming something of a homebody who has an increasingly difficult time justifying using aircraft to jet from location to location for the sole purposes of vacationing, I briefly toyed with and proposed a trip starting in Trieste and heading north through Eastern Europe, maybe encountering Zizek somewhere along the way. That trip didn't happen.

In its stead, I proposed that we take the funding required to travel to some indeterminate point on the globe and apply that to the production of a fictional movie to be shot at home in Central Virginia. A script is in hand, and it seems as if the majority of the pieces have come together. Which leaves me with the primary question: can two men who have never met convince us that they are longtime friends? At the moment, not my department. And in fact not necessarily pertinent to the enterprise. The endeavor is a trip through our artistic sensibilities, and an anthem to the glory of process. It's the journey, not the destination, despite the overwhelming evidence that no one out there cares about the difficulty of the process. They only care about what they can see in front of their faces, which is the end result.

Every day is a new roller coaster ride. Such is the life of a "no budget", no name, movie producer/writer/assitant director/production manager/cinematographer/Steadicam operator. I'm calling this venture - while it's working title is "Walking With Roscoe" - our 2011 trip to find the lost dream. Every day I veer from terror about what I've gotten myself into, to contentment that whatever we capture will have to be good enough. It's now down to less than a week before we begin working with cameras, lights, and actors. People seem to like the script, so at least the worry about the value of the material is being held at bay for now. No doubt I could still extricate myself, but by now it's pretty much got me in its grip and the production is headed forward without too much input from me. There are still many details to define, but the beast is nearly breathing on its own.


old news?

Compare & Despair - as Stuart Smalley used to say. It's certainly easy to despair, these days.

The world seems to be ripping itself apart. Revolutions, earthquakes, nuclear meltdown, tornados that tear apart a third of the towns they touch. Is this the supposed evidence that Judgement Day is upon us? Only now we have to wait another five months until the final, total destruction of the planet.

Tornado victims cheer themselves with the thought that "The Good Lord will provide."

Meanwhile, it is said that prophet "Camping reads neither Hebrew nor Greek, the two main languages of the Bible, but insists his arithmetic is ironclad."

Matt Tutor, Camping's longtime producer "...thinks $100 million is a conservative figure for the money Camping has spent publicizing May 21."

from LA Times:,0,1687317.story


in pre production

Looks like we've got a script and at least one of two actors. Here are some possible locations not too far from home, not close enough. I'm sorely tempted to make it so that we could shoot the entire project in the back yard.

Sorry to be so typically vague, but at least I know what I mean. At least, I think I do.

More as we progress towards the first fictional piece I've worked on in...24 years. Too long, that's for certain. No details other than a tentative schedule of early July.


"The Artist"

My intent with these documents is to get out of the way and let these accomplished artists - Russ Warren, Megan Marlatt, and John Evans - have their say.

Thanks to CLW for her editorial suggestions.


looking elsewhere

Where does the time go? Some work, a lot of reading and viewing, some Steadicam training, a little photography, very little writing. The effort to focus on anything other than the physical world immediately in front of my person seems to become more difficult.

Nonetheless, it feels as if a barrier has finally been broken in the effort to edit the video footage I've recorded with old friend and artist John Borden Evans for the third in a series of videos about artists displaying at the gallery Les Yeux du Monde. We recorded some interview material back at the beginning of March. The seasons have changed, the northern hemisphere has become brilliant green once again. Despite my appetite this year for the barrenness of winter, perhaps I needed to come out of that cocoon to develop some new ideas. The material has felt thin. It needed something to bolster it. Without looking at it directly, and while reading about other films, thoughts were sparked that head in a new direction. I know these things need to get pushed farther out there - somehow. That's what I'm after.

No deadlines are set. But some kind of completion is going to happen in the next week or two.


Ricky Maynard in Virginia

A rather fascinating exhibit is currently at one of our local museums, the Kluge-Ruhe space. Here is some info about this show of photographic prints by Tasmanian native Ricky Maynard. I'm not certain that he works exclusively with a large format camera, but Ricky did tell me at the show opening that his landscape work is often done with a "5 x 4." He spoke about the difficulties of working with a bellows camera in the frequent winds off the Southern Indian Ocean. The portraits of native elders from Queensland are fabulous images of people we rarely see in these parts, despite our cosmopolitan proclivities.

Most of the images in the current Kluge-Ruhe show can be seen here.

A 2 part video about Ricky's "Portrait of a Distant Land" project can be seen here and here. Interesting to see a large format landscape photographer go about his work. Turns out, he works mostly with an 8 x 10 Ebony, and does all his printing in a wet darkroom.


no intervention needed


what the world needs now

Is more cat imagery for the internet. Glad I can oblige, here at the end of our winter season. Much precipitation during the last 24 hours, fortunately none of it frozen.


Megan Marlatt & her paintings

Continuing my video examinations of artists exhibiting at Les Yeux du Monde in Charlottesville, VA., I've created this piece about painter and professor Megan Marlatt.


My thanks to Megan.