Pine Ridge

Badlands II

For the past two years I’ve had the opportunity to go on two mission trips to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, home of The Lakota people. My home church has a heart for the Lakota, who face many challenges including poverty, alcoholism, and a lack of good housing and jobs. We’ve spent the last decade developing relationships with residents of the Reservation, sharing the Gospel with them and helping out in any small way we can. In June, 2014 I spent a week on the Rez as a leader with our Youth Group, and one of my jobs was to capture photos and create a video documenting the trip. You can watch the video below.

Shooting on the Reservation is tricky. It’s very hot and dusty and with so much to see and do, lugging a ton of equipment around is pretty much impossible. That’s why I chose to simply use my Canon DSLR and an 18-55mm kit lens, with no tripod and just a spare SD card and battery in a small camera bag. I’m amazed at the versatility of this simple set-up. 18mm is great for shooting hand-held video and zooming to 55 was perfect for most of my photo needs. This year I took the same set-up to Pine Ridge, and here’s a slideshow of some of the photos I captured.

Serving Christ on the Reservation is humbling. When I realize the weight of the issues there it makes me realize how small I am and how little I can do. Thankfully I have a God who is mighty and who loves both myself and the Lakota far more than I can understand. He has a beautiful plan for us and it’s a joy to be even a tiny part of it.

Posted in Life, Photography, Video | Leave a comment

River Road: Capturing A Magical Place

IMG_0545

I’ve lived most of my life near the Des Plaines River in Gurnee, Illinois, and it’s always fascinated me. Its meandering waterways and muddy floodplains are like a tiny sliver of jungle running through our concrete civilization.

Recently I was able to shoot a demo video for Fotodiox, showcasing their FD to EOS lens adapter. I used a Canon FD 50mm f/1.8 lens, and with the help of an ND8 filter, I was able to shoot most of this video around f/2.8, creating a cinematic shallow depth of field look and some cool rack focus shots.

I shoot a lot of these video essays, but this one is special because I was able to capture a bit of the essence of a place I’ve known since childhood. You can watch the full video below.

Posted in Video | Leave a comment

Summer Suburb

As a single bachelor, I have a lot of free time on my hands, and one of the things I enjoy doing is going on long walks. Last summer I moved into a new house and this summer I discovered a new walking route, a must-find for anywhere I live. It winds from one small town to another, across roads and train tracks, through an ever-changing road construction zone, under low hanging bushes and past the back ends of new housing developments and old block neighborhoods. It ends up, of course, at a little ice-cream stand–not the healthiest of goals, but I assume/hope I’m burning the extra calories on the walk itself.

I brought my camera along last month and tried to capture the essence of this route. As a follower of Christ I find poetry in the most common things, and I tried to represent the broken beauty of those things in this video. You can be the judge of whether I succeeded or not.

Posted in Life, Video | Leave a comment

Mini Reviews: More Netflixing

Summer–time for staying at home and lazily watching Netflix!

Blue Ruin 
2013. Directed by Jeremy Saulnier

Blue-Ruin

The family feud is a staple of classic American storytelling, but it’s hard to imagine the backwoods familial wars portrayed in, say, Huckleberry Finn happening in modern day America. That’s why Blue Ruin is so compelling–it tells a story of revenge and violence between two feuding families that you wouldn’t imagine could happen today, but in a totally convincing way. The film’s conceit is fairly simple–if the cops aren’t called and the violence is concealed, a blood-soaked feud can go on almost indefinitely. Blue Ruin has no clear heroes. The protagonist starts off on a righteous path, but as the film progresses and more of the past is revealed, his justice-seeking vigilantism begins to lose its way. The filmmaking is tight and tense, the music haunting, the tone perfect. It doesn’t revel in violence so much as mourn it’s misguided use. This is a mournful film about the mutual destruction of those who cannot forgive on both sides of a conflict.

Django Unchained
2012. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

django-unchained-pow

This film is frustrating because, like Tarantino’s previous Inglorious Basterds, it’s a period piece rife with inaccuracy yet buzzing with commendable rage. Just like the commando heroes in Inglorious couldn’t have known the true horrors that were being enacted against the Jewish people by the Nazis in WWII Europe, the heroes of Django could not have had the twenty-twenty vision of slavery in the American south that we have now, nor the knowledge of it’s immanent downfall to avenge it so fearlessly. This then is revenge wish fulfillment, similar to the ending I always imagined for Disney’s Cinderella, where I somehow magically entered the film myself and punched the evil stepmother in the face over and over again. But instead of punching a wicked matron, our heroes gun down hoards of stereotypical white trash slavers as they howl in inbred hatred and stupidity–pure wish fulfillment.

This is the first Tarantino film I’ve seen that has characters the filmmaker seems to truly care for. Every one of his films up to this point has felt like a cold chess game, where characters are merely pawns to be intricately played into bloody conflict with each other. Yet in this film there are scenes where freed slave Django and his German liberator Schultz are treated with true affection, allowed to be more than just men of violence but good men who care about what’s right and show love and compassion to others. That they are then catapulted into the roles of bloody avengers is discordant with their characters, and makes for a frustrating viewing experience. The ending, truly Biblical in it’s righteous wrath, again suddenly becomes a lighthearted western romp–a great homage to exploitation films of the 70’s, but another discordant note in an incredibly discordant film.

Creep
2014. Directed by Patrick Brice

creep3

This is a found footage film that’s startling in it’s simplicity and the surprising humor its scenarios generate. It trades less in jump scares than in uneasiness and could have easily been a comedy with a few basic modifications to it’s plot. In a way it still is a comedy, a slight character study of a bizarre yet winning personality who is as funny as he is frightening. There are a couple eye-rolling moments when you have to ask why anyone would have kept a camera rolling, and the character who operates the camera–who is also the director–isn’t the best actor, but overall the film works and ranks closer to found footage masterpiece The Blair Witch Project than most of the recent found footage garbage.

Posted in Cinema, Review | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Video | Leave a comment