What a privilege to be able to spend time with each of the scientists and heavy thinkers in the series I shot with Fourth Line Films, Science: The Wide Angle, produced for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The interviews we captured were fascinating glimpses into the tremendous depth of knowledge gained over decades of work and study by people engaged at the cutting edge of their fields. The series explores the relationship between religious and scientific thought, amongst other interesting topics of conversation! Here are a few videos from the series:
Spending time with the artist Robert Feuge was an opportunity to see what can result from being very careful with "yes," and not being afraid of "no." He said "yes" to his creative ambitions and "yes" to the challenges that accompany the decision to call oneself an artist, despite all of the "no's" he heard early in his career: "no, that's not good enough...no, you're not talented enough...no, you'll never make a living this way." Hah! In this short documentary I shot with Nate Clarke of Fourthline Films, along with Chris Payne and Scott Goff, Robert shares the best advice he's ever received, which I still remember despite hearing him say it almost 2 years ago. Here's the film, just released this week as another installment of the Box Canyon Sessions:
And here's the crew, standing (and sitting) in awe of Robert's art...
Deirdre Fenton from ESPN called me up for a quick shoot with Gene Orza, the former COO of the Major League Baseball Players Association. He eloquently detailed the ins and outs of one of baseball's most controversial contracts, which will pay Bobby Bonilla over $1 million every year through 2035, even though he retired in 2001. Hmm.
Deirdre wanted Gene's interview to fit in stylistically with the other interviews that had already been shot by other DPs, but also have a warmer, "cozier" vibe. I decided to use his kitchen as the background, and used c-log2 on the C300 mkII to keep the window within range. Gene was keyed by a LitePanels Astra through a 4x4 frame of full stop and 1/4 stop diffusion, with a LitePanel 1x1 as a backlight. We bounced in some fill and were set. Check out the entire piece, Deirdre and Co. did a great job with the edit.
This project pushed me creatively in a variety of ways: I was the DP/Director for a series of live performance videos with Sandra and her band, as well as the photographer for the cover image of her new album, God's Highway. Filming all four live performance videos and capturing the album photography in a single day was a huge task, but Sandra and the crew were up for the challenge. Her producer, Lea Fulton, secured two beautiful locations for us, and we worked together to arrange the schedule in such a way that we would end up on the shores of the Pacific at sunset. There was much rejoicing as the sun slipped beneath the cloud cover and gave us a solid five minutes of glorious light to work with before it disappeared behind the San Juan Islands:
This was a wonderful project in many ways. I'm excited to share it with you. I was the DP and very fortunate to be a part of an amazing crew that figured out a way to pull this off with limited time, access, and budget. Many, many thanks to David Taylor (Producer), Nate Clarke (Director, Editor), Michael McQueen and Chris Payne (sound), Tim Grant, Zach Whiteside and Gabe Medina (camera operators), Jonny Rodgers (music), and everyone at Fuller Studios.
"This short film documents the friendship between Bono (lead musician of the band U2) and Eugene Peterson (author of contemporary-language Bible translation The Message) revolving around their common interest in the Psalms. Based on interviews conducted by Fuller Seminary faculty member David Taylor and produced in association with Fourth Line Films, the film highlights in particular a conversation on the Psalms that took place between Bono, Peterson, and Taylor at Peterson's Montana home."
Don't trip, don't trip, don't trip...
These were the words vibrating though my brain as I followed Bono of U2 down a set of stairs outside the home of Eugene Peterson (The Message) for the very first shot of the day (see the film here). I probably should have been filling my headspace with something more helpful, something like, is the shot in focus? battery levels ok? how's my exposure? am I actually recording right now??? But instead I had this overwhelming sensation that I was going to trip on one of the steps, collapse into Bono, break his other arm, and probably (definitely) ruin the entire film.
From conversations I've had with other DPs and filmmakers of all types, it's a common fear: I'm just one step away from disaster. Usually, this is meant in a more figurative, less literal sense: we wrestle with doubts about our own competence, with the idea that people will discover that we don't have all the answers, and we will be revealed as frauds. "I thought you were a DP!"
Early in my career, whenever I felt this fear rising up inside me--maybe because a shot wasn't working, or we were running way behind schedule, or I'd made my crew move a light back and forth one too many times--my instinct was to act as if nothing was wrong, to never admit that I needed some help. To fake it. To do whatever was necessary to convince everyone that I had it under control.
As I continued in my career, however, I began to find myself attracted more and more to the filmmakers who did admit when they needed help, who weren't afraid to say (on set, no less!) "actually, I'm not sure what to do right now." These filmmakers were not only more pleasant to work with, but their attitude created an environment where people felt safe to participate in the process, and to engage creatively in the task at hand without fear. There was a base of gentleness and humility that permeated their sets, unaffected by the ever-present anxiety and excitement of a film shoot, and these qualities often went hand-in-hand with truly excellent work.
As the DP for this project, I was part of a small team of people tasked with the challenge of creating a quiet space that would foster an intimate conversation between a globally respected theologian and a transcendent pop icon, with cameras rolling. Easy, right? Since this would be the first time I'd ever filmed such a conversation (hah!), I didn't know where to begin; and as the shoot approached, it became clear that the complex calculus of schedules, access, and budget wouldn't allow us to scout the location ahead of time or bring much in the way of grip and lighting equipment. We'd need to make a lot of last-minute decisions with some very tight limitations and little margin for error. In other words, it was the perfect opportunity to practice the same gentleness and humility that I'd grown to appreciate in other filmmakers (right??).
...don't trip, don't trip, don't trip...
A few hundred feet from the shore of Flathead Lake, and maybe three feet behind Bono, we reached the landing at the bottom of the steps. I moved around to Bono's right to capture a wide shot of him greeting Jan and Eugene at the front door, a move I'd choreographed ahead of time with the other camera operators, Zach Whiteside and Tim Grant, and the sound engineer, Michael McQueen. It was our first stab at working together as a team, and our only shot at capturing the long-awaited reunion between these three friends. And it worked. It wasn't perfect, but we got it.
Now, over a year later, it's encouraging to watch the film and see that our work resulted in something honest. I've had a number of people ask me, "what was it like to be in the same room as Bono and Eugene??" The best answer I can give is, "just watch the film." Nathan Clarke, the director and editor, together with David Taylor, the producer, ignored the pressure to exploit Bono's celebrity or overemphasize Eugene's renown. Instead, they allowed the film to be something quiet, close, and genuine.
As a crew, we certainly felt the pressure of the moment, but the calm nature of the interaction between Bono and Eugene would also describe the way we--the crew--interacted with each other on set. I'm happy to watch the film now and know that we were able to approach the gentleness and humility I've admired in other filmmakers, and to see how this way of making films had such a positive influence on the final product. Because what you see in the film is what we experienced together in Montana: a quiet, intimate reunion of friends.
The film's director, Nathan Clarke, has written more about the production of the film here
The film's producer, David Taylor, has shared his thoughts on the friendship between Bono and Eugene Peterson here
While wrestling with and navigating through my own doubts and fears around vocation and purpose, I was given the opportunity to film with Stephen Mason, a member of the band Jars of Clay, as he began a new career after 20 years of making music full time. My time with him was challenging and very helpful, and I hope the finished piece is helpful for you as well.
Nate Clarke directed this film, with sound by Chris Payne. The following description was written by Gate Davis of Laity Lodge:
Wintertime in Texas. We built a fire in the dry creek bed of Box Canyon and sat down with Stephen Mason. Just months before he had been in this very spot performing with his band, Jars of Clay, on a memorable summer night. But this time was different. Stephen came alone. No guitar. The trees covered in ice. A lot had changed. In a matter of days, Stephen would be opening The Handsomizer, his new barbershop in Nashville. A small shop, a former storage room connected to the side of the Jars of Clay studio. A new career, yet one that emerged right from the old. How does someone, after 20 years of doing one thing, make such a change? Vocation, Stephen told us, is a journey fraught with fear and questions. “Who am I? Where am I going? Who will go with me?” These are best answered through actions … small steps, each one revealing a new vantage point. If we’re lucky, we will find ourselves looking ahead—alive, content, curious to see what’s next.
Almost three years ago, director Nate Clarke and I hiked into the Box Canyon, a narrow space defined by inward cuving rock walls reminiscent of an "upside down cathedral," to borrow the description offered by poet Malcolm Guite when he recently visited the same space with us. And certainly it became a sacred place for us in some ways.
Nate's original idea was to see this unique location become host to a series of live musical performances that we would film together. Over the next few years, that initial concept took on a more fluid and evolving form as we invited all sorts to join us in the canyon to share with us thoughts and musings that might inspire and challenge us. Now, with an entire library of films to show for the countless hours we spent in that canyon, I'm excited for you to be able to explore the box canyon with us by watching the films created in that place and inspired by what we learned there.
Here are a few of my favorites. I encourage you to visit www.theboxcanyon.org and explore the entire series.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I spent quite a bit of time around rivers and streams. The Columbia, the Snake, the Deschutes: these are just a few of the rivers I’ve walked alongside, floated in, and driven over on road trips during summer vacations. The Frio River, which cuts through the Texas Hill Country, was a new kind of river for me to discover. Rather than a massive body of water flowing out of mountain ranges, falling over cliffs, colliding and rushing into steep rapids, and forcing its way through hydropower turbines, the Frio was narrow, secluded, and calm. However, the steep rock cliffs rising above it were evidence of a more furious past, when its energy shaped the dramatic landscape that surrounded us.
Over the course of three different trips to Texas, I was able to spend some time with Nate Clarke (director) and Chris Payne (sound) swimming below and flying over the surface of the Frio, hoping to record a glimpse of the life it carries. I’m happy to share the result with you:
I had the tremendous pleasure of shooting THE FLIGHT FANTASTIC for director Tom Moore. We wrapped our filming together almost 5 years ago, but this documentary was worth the wait! Tom's film invites us into the past and present of one of circus' greatest acts, the Flying Gaonas.
My wife and daughter were able to join me at the film's wonderful, celebratory Los Angeles premiere at the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard, where it screened to a packed house.
Next up is its New York premiere, at none other than Lincoln Center. On Friday, February 12th, THE FLIGHT FANTASTIC will be the opening night film of the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Dance on Camera Film Festival.
It was a real honor for me to be allowed into the lives of the Gaonas while filming this documentary. I was impressed by their hospitality and willingness to open up their homes to us, and the film would not have been such a success without their energy and vulnerability.
I've been filming a series of videos with Nathan Clarke for Laity Lodge, taking our interview subjects and musicians into a special place in the Texas Hill Country and listening to them perform a song or share what's currently on their mind (or both). The canyon has become a familiar and special place for us. These most recent videos epitomize the kind of articulate reflections and delicate musicianship that we've been so privileged to experience throughout the 2+ years of working on this project:
Recently I spent a day with Nate Clarke (@nate_clarke) and Chris Payne (@paynecr) in the Texas Hill Country, doing our best to document a flock of Cliff Swallows in the Frio River Canyon. It was a day spent crouching alongside shallow mud puddles and sometimes shooting on a long lens out of the back of our rented minivan. It required long periods of sitting completely still, waiting and hoping for a Cliff Swallow to appear, and gave me a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for full-time wildlife shooters. They must have a deep reservoir of patience to drink from while they wait...and wait..and wait...
Here's the result of our efforts:
This short piece is part of a larger project I've been shooting with Nate and Chris called The Box Canyon Sessions, coming soon.
Filming a live musical performance outside presents many challenges: can't really control the lighting, can't really do anything about ambient noise, can't really stop the bugs from crawling up your pant legs, etc. But if you embrace the necessary spontaneity of a shoot like this, you just might capture something beautiful. We certainly did when Moda Spira joined us in the Box Canyon and performed Playback:
"Hey want to shoot the Sounders game with us this weekend?"
I had to think for about 2 milliseconds before responding. Of course I wanted to shoot the Sounders game; I love shooting soccer (have you seen this?) and besides, the game wasn't just any other game, it was against our most bitter rivals, the Portland Timbers. Citizen Sounder gave me a field pass and asked me to capture footage for an ongoing piece aimed at documenting the experience of Sounders fandom, so to speak. Here's a brief example of what I was able to capture:
Supermarket Spree is a healthy-choices app currently in development. They brought me on to shoot Anne's story at the new PCC in Greenlake (nice!). It was also an opportunity to put the prototype of the Beeworks BW05 through its paces. I was very pleased with how it performed, and had a great time with the cast and crew:
I live in Seattle, and it's green and blue everywhere. Number 12s fly from flag poles and adorn the bumpers of most every vehicle on our rain-soaked streets. Little kids wear Russell's jersey to bed and John Schneider is a household name. My city is head over heels.
Sure, Seattleites have become especially fanatical during our recent streak of success after decades (and decades) of mediocrity (or worse). We love to watch our team win. As a life-long sports fan, I've been caught up in the buzz of it all, even to the point of developing an AM sports radio addiction of sorts, and it has been fun to hear the post-game analysis after another Seahawks victory.
But behind the excitement and thrill of all this winning, there's a small corner in the back of my brain where a thought has taken up residence, quite stubbornly, and it's a thought that has managed to consistently temper my enthusiasm for football, even after some unbelievable Seahawks victories. The thought goes something like this: wow that's a lot of violence and sexism! You sure you want your kids to see you watching that???
Football is an inherently violent game, and its popularity would be diminished significantly if the NFL started playing flag football instead of tackle. I get it. Tackling, hitting, grabbing, pushing...it's all part of the game, and that's ok. Clearly, if you decide to play tackle football, you are accepting the possibility of being seriously injured, just as you would for any sport (curling aside, of course). However, the physical contact of the NFL crosses the line and becomes violence when it is glamorized, when the big hits that leave an opponent dazed are extracted from the overall narrative of a game and played and replayed over and over again on SportsCenter, on YouTube, on Sunday Night Football. Yes, players will occasionally get their "bell rung," their ACLs torn, their shoulders dislocated; all these are risks that athletes who choose to play football will need to accept in order to play a game they enjoy. And that's fine. But this kind of physical contact is too often converted into a vicarious violence for audience consumption. It's not necessarily the NFL's fault that networks and sponsors so often choose to interpret the sport of football in this way, but certainly the league is doing nothing to discourage it.
And then, there's the sexism. And it's really hard to avoid as a viewer. Watch any broadcast of an NFL football game, and almost every commercial break begins or ends with a shot of a cheerleader. Now, there's nothing sexist about having cheerleaders on the sidelines of a football game, except when the only cheerleaders are women at a game played exclusively by men, wearing clothes that are not suited for dancing (those boots?) or, often, the weather (ever seen a Sea Gal in a parka?). And when you read the attire requirements for trying out to be a Sea Gal, and when you realize that the panel of judges at Sea Gal auditions is composed mostly of people that admit they know nothing about dance (and are mostly men), it seems clear that the role of cheerleaders in an NFL game today is "fostering stereotypes of social roles based on sex," to quote Webster's definition of sexism.
Ok. All that being said, there is much to like about this sport and our team (and others, I'm sure). Our stout defense, the Legion of Boom, recently redefined its own acronym to stand for Love Our Brother after a team meeting in which Coach Carroll told his players that their slow start to the 2014 season was due to the fact that they weren't playing for one another, they weren't celebrating the success of their teammates; rather, they were looking for their own individual glory and the team was suffering as a result. I love this. And I love Carroll's insistence on focusing on what his team does best, instilling a belief that as long as they trust in their own abilities and simply play their own game, they will find success: focusing on the other team and worrying about what it may or may not do is counterproductive. And Kam Chancellor (above) is a perfect example of how inspiring it can be to throw yourself completely into the present moment and to bring all of your energy and focus to the task at hand.
Can physical contact be an integral part of sport without becoming violence? Can cheerleadering be an integral part of sport without sexism? I believe the answer to both questions is, yes, but we are not seeing much effort made by the NFL--or the networks that carry its games--to move in that direction, and this is why I can not, today, fully throw my support behind an NFL team, even when my own team is preparing to play in the Super Bowl. There's so much to love, but too much to regret. So I'm all in, almost.
I was recently asked to shoot some footage using the BeeWorks 5, a handheld camera stabilization system in the same vein as another stabilizer I've used recently, the Movi M5. I had recently purchased the Sony A7S, and was looking for opportunities to push its low light capabilities. Ballard boat docks at dusk, anyone? Check it out. The BW05 and the Sony A7S made for a beautiful, fun evening of soggy shooting.
Despite the fact that the BW05 I used was still under development, it proved to be extremely easy to operate and I found myself getting beautiful stuff almost right away. For those of you that are curious, I'll quickly list the differences I noticed between the BeeWorks 5 and the Movi M5.
- Right out of the box, the BW05's beautiful physical shape and structure will catch your attention. The M5 looks clunky lined up next to the BW05, there's just no other way to put it. The BW05 is beautiful, the M5 is relatively homely.
- The BW05 felt surprisingly light. The guys at Beeworks said it weighs less than 4 pounds. The M5 weighs just under 5 pounds.
- Balancing my A7S was very easy on the BW05. Aluminum thumb screws were easy to loosen/tighten to quickly adjust the camera position. The M5 uses a series of pressure clamps, which were also easy to use and felt a little heftier than the aluminum thumb screws. That being said, the screws on the BW05 felt very secure and I never worried about the camera's safety. It took me longer to balance the A7S on the M5, but that may have been because the M5 was the very first camera stabilizer I'd ever used, so it would probably be much easier for me to balance my camera on it now.
- Why doesn't the M5 come with an easy way to mount my monitor? It seems like such a small thing...but the fact that the BW05 comes with a standard monitor mount already installed is such a nice feature. One of my worst memories with the M5 was figuring out how to mount my monitor (it may be that LensRentals forgot to send a necessary attachment...?). Regardless, the BW05's monitor mount is simple and elegant.
- The M5's software was not easy to figure out, but once I tripped my way through it a few times, it was reliable and able to get me up and running without much trouble. The guys at BeeWorks told me their software will be available soon, and they say it will be more intuitive than the M5's. For this shoot, the BW05 was tuned ahead of time by the guys at BeeWorks. So, the jury is still out on their software and its ease of use.
- The handlebar was much easier to reposition and customize on the BW05 than on the M5. It is pretty easy to adjust the handlebar position on the M5, but the BW05 makes it even easier.
Ok, you can probably tell that I am a big fan of the BW05. I didn't push its limits with regards to camera weight (the A7S is a pretty small camera) and there are lots of things that the guys at BeeWorks say it will be able to do when it is released in April which I'm really excited about, but haven't seen firsthand yet (including internal HDMI routing and a kinetic remote). Even so, from what I did see the BW05 will be my first choice in camera stabilization once it is released in April: it's easy to use, lightweight, and a beautiful piece of equipment. Oh, and it really works.
It was fun to go out on assignment recently for Alive Together and capture portraits of an eclectic group of Seattleites. One of my favorite things about working in film and photography is the opportunity to meet people and be places that I wouldn't otherwise have the opportunity to know or experience. On this assignment we visited on operating room, met with a university provost, spent some time inside the headquarters of one of the world's largest NGOs, and even sampled some tasty cupcakes. Not bad!
The next issue of the magazine will arrive just before Thanksgiving, so keep your eyes open. Thanks to everyone on staff at Alive Together/UPC for the opportunity.
You could say my filmmaking career officially began in Los Angeles, the day after I graduated from USC. With the familiar structures and confines of academia behind me for good, I put myself to the task of building a career in an extremely competitive industry. I certainly wasn't alone: not only was I one of almost 100 other film students that graduated that same day, I was in a giant city full of many other eager, driven, and talented people hoping to earn a living in the business of movie making.
It can be daunting to imagine oneself as just one among so many, trying to stand out as the most creative, most talented, most (insert your own adjective here) in town. But it can also be comforting: the path before you, though difficult, is well trodden.
I walked that path for 18 months after graduation, taking any job I could get my hands on, even if it meant working for free. The idea that, "it will be great for my reel," was often my only motivation as I tried to build a body of work that would make me stand out from the crowd. I also did data entry, web design, graphic design, wedding photography, and more data entry in an effort to contribute a few pennies to the household finances (fortunately for me, Jen was working as a nurse at the time). Despite the frequent frustrations (and mind numbing data entry jobs), I felt that all my effort was leading me slowly forward: so many other Angelinos had made it work in this biz, and I would too, by grinding it out and staying on the path until I "made it."
But the following year, shockwaves of the housing market's collapse made us realize quite suddenly that we could no longer afford to live in LA. We owned a small condo in Seattle, and had been renting it out for approximately the same amount as the monthly mortgage payments. In October, our renters decided to move out, and we discovered we were no longer able to get even half of what we had been charging them for rent. We couldn't afford to cover both the mortgage and pay rent on our apartment in LA, and our mortgage was underwater so selling wasn't an option. It seemed to us that we had no choice, and by Christmas we were living in Seattle, in that condo, slightly stunned and unsure of what would happen next.
I can remember the night Jen and I stood in the kitchen in our apartment in LA, mugs of tea in our hands, and talked about what it would mean for us to leave LA and move to Seattle. As a nurse, we were confident that Jen would quickly find a job. But for me? How was I going to find work as a relatively inexperienced filmmaker in a city with such a small film industry?
Skip forward five years. Jen and I are still in Seattle, in that same small condo. We now have a 2 year-old daughter and another child due in December. Jen is no longer a nurse: she is in school full time, studying to become a naturopathic physician.
Thankfully, my career as a filmmaker has not ended. Certainly, things have not always been easy: since landing here so suddenly, I have had to carve out my own trail as a filmmaker since, unlike in Los Angeles, there was no well-trodden path for me to follow. On that night five years ago in our kitchen in LA, in the midst of such unexpected turmoil and on the verge of uprooting ourselves, I remember admitting to Jen that, in spite of everything, I felt a small but steady sensation of excitement: excited to enter into something uncertain and mysterious. She said she felt it too.
Last week I was back in LA for a shoot at Fuller Seminary. I flew down a day early and ended up reconnecting with a few people I hadn't seen since moving to Seattle: professors, directors, producers, and friends. With each person, the conversation eventually turned back to the days just before Jen and I left LA. More than once I heard someone say, "I was so worried about you when you left."
This was hard for me to hear, and since returning home it has continued to sit uncomfortably in my brain, making me sad and annoying me at the same time. It implies either a myopic, LA-centric worldview, or a lack of confidence in my potential as a filmmaker. Certainly it reveals a lack of faith in something that I believe very strongly, that a meaningful life is the sum of many parts, and success as a filmmaker (or success in any field) is ultimately a much smaller and less important part of that meaningful life than these people seem to realize. In other words, what if their worries had been realized, and I was no longer a filmmaker? Wouldn't I still be their friend? Or Jen's husband, and my daughter's father? It was a reminder that we can too easily find our identity and worth in our careers alone. Our work matters, sure. But we need to embrace a definition of work that is broad enough to encompass more than just the way we earn our money. I've heard a lot of people use the world "calling" in interviews I've shot recently to get at this idea.
It was disappointing to hear that colleagues and friends had been worried about me as I left LA rather than excited and hopeful, but I do believe that their worry came from a place of care, from wanting what they saw as best for me. And for that, I am grateful. Looking forward, though, I hope that when people I love step off the familiar path and into something less certain, I choose to be hopeful, to be excited for what adventures may come, and not to worry.