Summer Stories: Make Films Until They Don’t Suck

Prolific indie filmmaker Jay Duplass once said “Keep making shitty short films until one of them doesn’t suck one day.” So I took his advice and earlier this year my friend Jeremy and I began shooting a series of shorts film scripts I had written. Originally I intended these shorts to be self contained, but as I looked over them I realized they all had some basic elements in common: they were all set in the Midwestern suburbs in the summer, and they all involved slightly paranormal occurrences. Now I’m releasing them about bimonthly on YouTube as Summer Stories, my first ever miniseries! Summer Stories is a loosely connected series of short films about the strange and mysterious things that can be found just around the corner in the summer suburbs. It’s also been a great learning experience for me, and I plan to continue writing and shooting the series into the winter, although I suppose I’ll have to change the name to Winter Stories at some point.

Here’s the first episode in the series, which I released last week, just in time for Halloween.

And here’s the trailer for the series, containing clips from some upcoming episodes.

Grayslake Pinhole: Shooting Pinhole Video with a Homemade Body Cap Lens

Pinhole imagery has always fascinated me. I own a Zero Image medium format film pinhole camera that I shoot with occasionally, but other than my weird pumpkin camera obscura, I’ve never tried shooting pinhole photography with a digital camera. I find the precision made digital pinhole lenses that you can buy online just a little too expensive for the results you get, so the other day I finally did the homework and made my own pinhole lens from scratch. Here’s a video I made for Fotodiox showcasing my build process.

And here’s the footage I shot on a Sony A7S, which is the perfect camera for shooting pinhole video because of it’s amazingly sensitive sensor. Pinhole lenses are notoriously hard to use for video in anything but bright daylight, but with the A7S I was able to shoot footage with my pinhole lens even at dusk!

I learned some valuable things working on this project, namely that you need a very tiny pinhole to get sharp images and that your pinhole need to be extremely close to your camera’s sensor to get that wide angle look that most people associate with the style. My next body cap pinhole lens build is going to incorporate both of theses changes, so stay tuned!

Sony A7R II at the Shedd Aquarium

Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium is a beautiful and relaxing place to visit, and last week I was able to take a camera there to shoot some video. I used a Sony A7R II, two Canon FD lenses–a Vivitar 20mm f3.8 and my Dad’s old 50mm f1.4–and a Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye lens, all mounted on the camera via Fotodiox adapters. I shot half the video is 24fps and the other half in 60fps for the slow motion effect. I was going to shoot in a flat profile but I really love Sony’s built-in color science so I ended up going with the standard picture profile and layering on a film emulsion LUT in post. Here’s the video I shot:

After shooting with the A7R II for a little over a year now I’m still regularly surprised by how beautiful it can render photos and video. It’s not great in low-light, but if you have a fast lens mounted on it and stick at ISO 800 or lower, its powerful little imaging device. I guess it should be for the price. I’m so thankful that my work lest me borrow it so frequently!


Fisheye In The Bog

Bog Boardwalk

I grew up going on hikes with my family at Volo Bog State Natural Area, and it’s still one of my favorite places to visit in Illinois. A bog, especially in the vanilla Midwest, is a magical place, and when you get out in the middle of it, after crossing acres of quaking ground and floating dwarf trees on a narrow boardwalk, you feel like you’re in another world. This January we had an unseasonably warm stretch that felt just like Spring, and one Saturday I couldn’t help but grab a camera and head out to Volo to check up on an old friend.

To keep things simple I generally take just one camera and one lens when I go on a photo walk, and this time I decided to go with an unconventional pairing: my Rokinon 7.5mm Fisheye, which I just recently discovered I could mount on my work’s Sony A7S with the help of a Fotodiox MFT to E-mount lens adapter. Here’s what the camera/lens combo looks like.

My Rokinon 7.5mm is made to cover a Micro Four Thirds sensor, so I had to use the APS-C crop mode on the Sony A7S plus do a little cropping in post to remove the vignette caused by the len’s built-in tulip hood. I love working with wide angle and fisheye lenses because they give me such a unique, dramatic view of the world. Here are some of the photos I captured during my day at the bog.

Big Blue Winter Sky

Dock on Frozen Pond

January Leaf

I also shot video on my walk, and here’s a short film I made with the footage, trying to capture the essence of the day. I had shot footage of other hikers and my own feet walking along different parts of the boardwalk, but I realized that the strongest elements of my footage were shots of the sky and the bog’s relationship to it, so that’s the direction I took with the final edit. You can check out the video below.

Here’s an additional video I made for Fotodiox about the adapter I used.

Limiting myself to a fisheye lens for an entire day of shooting was a rewarding challenge, and I definitely plan on using this lens on a full frame camera again. Volo Bog is even more beautiful in the Spring and Summer, so I may be heading back to capture more images soon.

Probably Okay: The Pie Problem

Here’s the latest video from my sketch comedy YouTube series Probably Okay. My writing partner Michael Golus and I have been stepping up our game lately with more complex ideas and polished cinematography, and it’s helped to elevate the material, which is, as usual, entirely mad. Probably Okay is all about jokes without punchlines, and this video is no exception. When Mike and I write these scripts, with occasional help from the rest of our fluctuating team of actors, we like to play the “what if” game and go as far as we can with it, which ends up generating some pretty bizarre ideas. This alternative humor isn’t for everyone, and I’ve encountered plenty of of people who just scratch their heads when they see our videos, but from those who understand the humor, we’ve been fairly well received. We’ve been making these video for 7 years now and we’ve never really generated a large audience, but for Mike and I it’s never been about the amount of views or the likes. We just enjoy creating funny videos that surprise and hopefully delight the viewer with their unexpectedness, and if we’ve done that for even just a couple of people, we feel like we’ve succeeded.