NEW MAN: a test film that became a short

NEW MAN still

I love shooting on small gauge film! In fact, my website used to be called 16mman.com, and this blog still bears part of the name. In film school I shot my class projects almost exclusively on 16mm, and I’ve also played around with Super8. I love the jittery movement of small gauge film, it’s rich grain structure and the timeless feel it can help generate. In this age of super sharp, super detailed digital video, it’s nice to shoot in a lower fidelity sometimes.

Sean with 310XL

I was recently working on a short that I planned to shoot on Super8 black and white reversal film with my lovely Canon 310XL. Before I pulled the trigger on such a large investment though, I decided to buy a single cartridge of the film and shoot some test footage. Of course, I would never waste a whole three and a half minutes of Super8 film on a test alone, so I wrote a little one page script and shot that. Here’s the result, entitled NEW MAN.

Originally the monologue that the man, played by my good friend Scott McElroy, speaks into his micro cassette recorder was going to run before he meets his double in the woods, but when editing the film I found that the monologue ran way too long and actually just fit into the film’s running time. Instead of cutting it short, I decided to use the monologue as the film’s soundtrack, and I think it works. I like the discordance of the character’s fairly relaxed voice speaking over his crazed attack, and some of what he says actually perfectly matches up with his actions. We recorded the audio on a portable audio cassette recorder, not micro cassette sadly. The micro cassette recorder featured in the film was mine from gradeschool–I used to record days worth of fake news interviews with my friends on that thing!–But sadly it wasn’t working anymore so we had to use a normal sized recorder and tape.

NEW MAN is a film of little substance, but it helped me determine that, while I want to keep shooting on Super8, I just don’t have the cash to use it for longer projects. At least I got something kind of cool out of the test.

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Smartphone and Hybrid Photography

Devils Lake Panorama

The smartphone photography revolution is over, and the smartphone has clearly won. Almost everyone owns one, and the majority of photos these days are being captured with them. Much has been written about smartphone photography, it’s art or lack thereof, and I admit that I don’t have much to add to the conversation. All I can really say is that I purchased an iPhone 5c over a year ago and have been shooting photos and videos with it ever since, and I really like it.

Green Arches

I like to tell people that filmmaking is my career and photography is my hobby. I shoot the majority of my photos on 35mm and 120 film with vintage cameras from my collection, but I also use my digital SLR frequently. Adding my iPhone to the mix hasn’t taken away from either type of photography, it’s just given me a third option. I like how the iPhone sits somewhere between high resolution digital and lo-fi film photography. It creates a digital image shot through a fairly lo-fi lens, and the processing power of the device allows the user to add any sort of color, texture or distortion that takes their fancy. Purists in both the digital and film camps will argue that this ruins the image, but I’d like them to explain why they use certain Lightroom settings or film types. That’s not to say there’s no such thing as over-processing an image, but all photographers  face this temptation, not just smartphone shooters.

Monster's Shadow

There’s always been a huge divide between film and digital shooters, but I don’t think I fall into either camp. I consider myself an entirely hybrid camera user–if it can capture a still image, I’m in. I’ve captured images with a $10 key-chain digital camera, a 4×5 press camera, and everything in between, and my iPhone is just one more imaging tool at my disposal. It’s a bit alarming when I catch flack for my film cameras on digital photography forums, or when I get reprimanded for not shooting film when I talk about my digital work in film communities. I don’t understand why a photographer wouldn’t want to take advantage of both kinds of photography these days. This is a great time for film and digital alike–film and film cameras are making a comeback thanks to the internet, hipster culture and companies like Lomography, and digital photography is making huge leaps and bounds in quality and technology every day. Nowadays you can use a lens adapter to shoot digital images with film lenses, digitize and edit your film photography on your computer or smartphone, and even print negatives of your digital shots and make traditional prints in a darkroom. It’s a great time to be a photographer!

Late Autumn Ridge

Pine Lift

Everyone owns a smartphone today just like they owned a digital point and shoot in the 2000’s, just like they owned a 35mm camera in the 90s and 80’s, just like they owned a 110 camera in the 70’s, just like they owned an Instamatic camera in the 60’s, just like they owned a Kodak Brownie in the 50’s and 40’s, just like they owned a box camera in the 30’s and 20’s. The same people who condemn smartphone photography today faun over vintage Kodak Brownies and the photos shot with them. Sure, there’s been a dip in the quality and resolution of images shot with smartphones when compared to film cameras of the past, but that issue is quickly fading as smartphone camera technology advances. Someday we’ll look back at our Hipstamatic and Instagram photos with the same awed reverence we view tintypes and old family photos with. In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy shooting with cameras and photographic mediums of all types.

Overlook

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My Top Five Favorite Films of 2014

I had a really great time at the cinema in 2014, and these are my top five favorite films.

1. Interstellar

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I loved this film! I went to see it three times, it moved and inspired me, and even
brought me to tears. Interstellar feels like a return to the cinema of the past. It’s full of grand imagery, thundering romantic music cues and features an epic science fiction adventure plot that has very real human stakes. It’s fitting that a film so closely modeled around Kubrick’s classic 2001: A Space Odyssey would have a similar weight and gravitas, but unlike 2001, Interstellar is a much more emotional and idea-centric film, and director Christopher Nolan isn’t afraid to communicate these emotions and ideas through dialog that may seem overly theatrical to some–but for me it works. Nolan is dealing here with themes that most filmmakers never will, and he needs a broader dramatic vocabulary to examine them: the way in which humans feel abandoned by the divine, the concept of a higher power governing the universe, and the way the passage of time effects us. Though it’s editing stumbles slightly near the end, the film never slows down or feels dull, even at it’s almost three hour running time. The acting is superb, the music is glorious, and the finale is perfect. If you haven’t already done so, watch this film!

2. Boyhood

boyhood

As everyone has already noted, this film was shot over a period of 12 years. It
focuses on a boy, his relationship with his family, and the joys and turmoils of
childhood and growing up. The camera follows him from year to year as he literally
grows up in front of the lens. What resonates so much with me is that I was a boy
during some of the years this film was shot, and as my younger brother and I watched,
we found ourselves identifying with the cultural touchstones that appear on screen:
Presidential elections, computers and video game systems, Harry Potter mania, sports events, popular music and fashion trends–the best part is that these touchstones aren’t
being recreated like most period films, they’re actually being captured as they
happen. Director Richard Linklater has a wonderfully relaxed cinematic style, and he’s not
afraid to make a film with low stakes that breathes. You’re not going to find much
dramatic tension or classical storytelling here, but what you are going to find is an
uncanny capturing of an era, and a bittersweet, dead-on look at what growing up as a
boy in the United States is like. What pleases me most about Boyhood is that it’s
permanently captured the period of my childhood, and it’s something I come back to
and enjoy for the rest of my life.

3. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Grand Budapest

The Grand Budapest Hotel is probably the darkest, most violent Wes Anderson film to
date, but that doesn’t mean it’s not funny, and it has all the wit and mannered charm
of the rest of his filmography. The film centers around a hotel somewhere in Europe and its larger than life, gold-digging clerk who inherits a priceless painting from a family
that is clearly up to no good. Told through multiple narrators, time periods–and
even aspect ratios–the film remains a fairly simple heist story, featuring a
hilariously complex prison break and some cartoonish action sequences–I think
Anderson is still kind of hung up on the wonderfully two dimensional stop motion
effects he achieved in Fantastic Mr. Fox. In the end, the film is about the darkness
of Fascism and the way in which it permanently changed Europe, but that’s mostly lost
in the cacophony of it’s slapstick climax and ornate art design. That’s not to say the film
doesn’t work. It’s a joy to behold as well as a dramatic punch in the gut, and
perhaps one of Anderson’s most emotional films to date. The ending is simply
devastating, but not without its sweetness. Critics have observed that Wes Anderson
is in love with the past and has never really felt comfortable with the modern world
he lives in, and nowhere is that more apparent than in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

4. Nightcrawler

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I’ve reviewed Nighcrawler already, and you can read that review here. It was one of the most engaging films I saw in 2014. Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is an amazing cinematic creation, and the way this character plays with your emotions throughout the film has to be seen to be believed.

5. Edge of Tomorrow

EDGE OF TOMORROW

Edge of Tomorrow is that rare summer film that doesn’t pander to it’s audience. Instead it presents it’s complex science fiction plot through a smart, economical series of images and relies on the audience’s intelligence to sort everything out. It’s also rare for its character development–there are no lazy “types” here and even the smallest side character gets his moment to develop. Tom Cruise is excellent as an unsympathetic military PR man fated to become a selfless hero questing to save mankind, and Emily Blunt is surprisingly believable as a battle hardened warrior, despite her petite frame. Did I mention the excellent art design? It really is nice to look at and makes the world of the film feel both mundane and lived in, even as men in CG mechanical suits fight giant CG robot octopus aliens. All around a rare feat and a pleasant surprise, Edge of Tomorrow feels like a film that will be considered a classic someday.

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Dusk and Water

Water becomes beautiful at sunset and dusk. This film is made up of some test footage I shot for the company I work for, both at a Lake where I live and a bay up in Door County, Wisconsin. I used a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera and various retro 35mm film lenses.

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Mini Reviews: 2015 Summer Films – Part 1

Avengers: Age of Ultron

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is as close as filmmaking has come to capturing the feel of reading a super hero comic book. It’s jammed full of thrilling action scenes, muddled plots and subplots, sci-fi techno babble, obscure character cameos, and iconic images. An elaborate fight scene near the end is staged in slow-motion, almost like the individual panels of a comic. It’s not a great film, and it’s certainly not as well conceived or paced as it’s predecessor, but it sure is a joy to behold if you’re a fan of the genre, and especially so if you like super hero comics.

Mad Max: Fury Road

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Now THIS is how you make a movie! I don’t even like the Mad Max series or the post apocalyptic genre, but this film is a 10. When the last frame cut to the credits I found myself applauding, and I wasn’t alone. Everything is perfectly crafted in this film–perfect plot, perfect character development, perfect art design, perfect cinematography and editing, perfect action choreography; even the violence was handled perfectly–not overly gory or mean spirited but still realistic and scary. There’s not a wasted frame or a self-indulgent moment–except maybe that electric guitar flamethrower that everyone is talking about. I’ve read some reviews complaining that the film’s story is too simple, but I think that’s one of the its strengths. Fury Road‘s story is stripped downs and iconic, like a western, and most of it is shown rather than told, a unique trait of cinema that most blockbuster directors have ignored in recent years. Mad Max: Fury Road is my favorite film so far this Summer, and maybe the coolest action adventure film I’ve ever seen–right up there with Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you like movies at all you should go see it right now!

Jurassic World

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Jurassic World is a bizarre, laughable parody of the original Jurassic Park. Where the original was beautifully crafted and paced, this “soft reboot” as some are calling it is flat and one-noted. Park was full of wonder and hard science fiction, World is jaded and made up of goofy dinosaur fan service. It may not be a bad cheesy monster movie, but it’s no science fiction classic like Spielberg’s original. Avoid this film unless you just want a good chuckle.

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