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Posts Tagged ‘Iphone’

”I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper.”
—Steve Martin

”Embrace your environment and try to seek out a handful of ideas. . . You don’t need to live in New York for that to work. Find interestingness in your own life ”
—Casey Neistat

The above Casey Neistat quote reminds me of the time when I lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa and drove by a grain silo in the winter with a small group of people ice climbing up it. I thought it was interesting, but I didn’t pull over and spontaneously start shooting footage. I missed a golden opportunity at spontaneous filmmaking. At least someone did a short doc on the unusual activity. Interestingness 101.

This post has a little bit of a back to the future aspect to it. After all, silent film great Charlie Chaplin was known in his silent film days for getting an idea and going outside that day with some actors and shooting footage for a short film. That’s a long way from Titanic where James Cameron (and his crew of hundreds) spending years planning, shooting, and editing that hit movie.

But have you ever challenged yourself to create something in a week or two?

When last was started, I hadn’t even begun the Casey Neistat 30-day filmmaking and storytelling online class, and now I feel like I’ve wrapped my head around spontaneous filmmaking. (I was very fortunate to find an interesting character.) Here’s how last week went down.

Monday, May 9:

I watched Casey’s first message about how he just walks out onto the NYC streets looking for ideas to explore. (“Whenever you step outside here, you’re just kind of hit in the face with stories. And I think that’s true for wherever you call home.”) He’s looking for potential stories that will be compelling and emotional. It could be the noise of a chop saw and how the incessant noise of the city makes it difficult to get clean audio for his video, or wondering what it’s like to buy a counterfeit hand bag in Chinatown. It took me about 20 minutes to come up with four ideas to explore for my first project;  Brutalist architecture, my dog, my old Panasonic HVX 200, and kayaking. I decided on kayaking because it seemed like the most contained topic. There wasn’t a story yet, but I figured I’d at least get some good visuals. I knew that beauty shots alone wouldn’t be interesting, but it was a start. 

Lesson 1: Just start. I’m reminded of the Goethe quote, “In action, there is power, grace, and magic.” Or the more well known Nike ad campaign—”Just Do It.”

Tuesday May 10: 

Woke up at 5 A.M. so I could shoot my kayak in the water at sunrise. (That wasn’t the plan, but my puppy was my alarm clock.) Because the iPhone doesn’t handle dynamic range well, I knew the actual sunset would not be the best shot because the sun blows out. My best shot was about 30 minutes before sunrise at a boat ramp. It’s when the sky is the most dramatic as it’s transitioning from darkness to light. I finally was in the water around 6:45 and about 10 minutes into my trip I came up on a guy named Blake fishing on a dock, and he changed the direction of my entire concept. He’s a Full Sail University student originally from Louisiana and knew a thing or two about alligators. He instantly became my main character, and alligators became my focus. I interviewed him with my iPhone while sitting in my kayak as he stood on a dock where I found him fishing bathed in the early morning light. (He was the only person around the lake the morning I went out.)

Lesson 2: Don’t pass up the obvious. I paddled by Blake at first, but then an imaginary, miniature Casey Neistat popped up on my shoulder and told me, “Ahhh, you might want to go back and interview that guy.” Glad I did or my concept would be dead in the water. 

Wed—Saturday May 11-14

I shot more beauty footage around the lake, and looked for gators. 

Lesson 3: The little Joby GorilliaPod Magnetic tripod comes in very handy when shooting with an iPhone 13 ProMax from a kayak. Holding any kind of camera on kayak has a built in threat of dropping your camera in the water, but the Joby clamp and magnetic thingy gave me a measure of security.

Sunday May 15

Before going out to shoot a sunset Saturday night, my wife said to be careful because it was gator mating season. I’d forgotten that fact. On Sunday, it hit me that I could make that my hook to the story. So I recorded myself on-camera saying, “Is it dangerous to kayak in Florida during gator mating season? Let’s find out.”

Lesson 4: Because you’re continually developing your idea, your brain is like a pinball machine. You just have to recognize when you hit the sweet spot. I needed something that I could hook a viewer within the first 10-12 seconds. The promise of a premise is the way people talk about it in developing features and TV shows.

I’m currently listening to the Dave Itzkoff audio book Robin on comedian/actor Robin Williams who had off the chart talent as a spontaneous performer. But Williams admittedly could not translate that skill into a traditional style of writing a script.

“To be funny in print is a very hard thing for me to do. I can do it in performing, because it’s straight up—kaboom! But when I sit down at the typewriter I feel like an autistic child.”
—Robin Williams

So if you have ideas you want to explore, but have trouble sitting down and writing a story, explore some more spontaneous ways to create. Casey Neistat and Robin Williams are examples of people who work/worked best spontaneously on the fly.

Some screenwriters dictate to someone writing down their ideas, and some people audio record themselves. There’s no one size fits all way to create. You don’t have to just sit (or stand) at a computer. In fact, you don’t even need to have a computer. Quentin Tarantino, Spike Lee, and Woody Allen hand wrote some of their most beloved and award-winning screenplays. Judd Apatow wrote a screenplay on his phone during downtime from meetings and working on another film. While some resort to using notes on their phone or even emailing themselves ideas, there are several screenwriting apps for you phone or iPad/tablet. I bet there is someone in the world right now that is working on a feature film just spontaneously shooting actors with a smartphone.

The history of this blog owes a debt to spontaneity. Especially, when I was blogging daily I just had to jump in the water and start swimming. Even today it might just be a quote or something that serves as a nub for me to pick at until something more fully formed emerges.

Here are a couple of frames that are quick glance the video I shot last week. While I could have shot this with an Alexa camera and had a boom operator and sound team on a pontoon boat nearby, it wouldn’t fit my zero budget spontaneous experiment.

Now that I think about it, this style of just jumping into a story before it’s fully formed reminds me of the five years I participated in the 48 Hour Film project where you make a short film from beginning to end in 48 hours. I enjoyed that process. And the fringe benefit was I got to work with a great team of people all who volunteered their time, and each each with one some kind of award.

P.S. Much of the traveling I’ve done over the years I would classify as planned spontaneity. It’s a phrase I started using about 20 years ago when I backpacked across Europe with my wife. I had an overall idea of the countries we’d hit, but no real plan what days we’d be where, so we didn’t book any hotels or rooms. My wife (and others) thought I was crazy. But we did have a Rick Steves travel book, so we had a general idea when we’d go next. It was easily one of the best trips of my life. But buried within the spontaneity was years (decades?) of unofficial planning and dreaming to that the trip. Those that were close to Robin Williams said that what often came out as 100% spontinaity was stuff he had be thinking about a while. I’ve been wanting to do a kayaking story for about two years, so while it was a spontaneous decision last week—it was in the back of my head for a while.

Related posts:
Spontaneous Filmmaking with Casey Neistat

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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“I can trace so much of what I do every day, when I’m writing, to what I was taught back then by my teachers at Syracuse.”
—Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, A Few Good Men)

Lake Howell Ripples #1

The first photography class I ever had was as a sophomore in high school. The teacher told me to drop the class after the first assignment. I’d borrowed a 35mm film camera, taken a roll of photos, but forgot to rewind the film before opening the back to take the film out. (A good teacher would have said develop the film anyway and see what opening and quickly closing the back did to the negatives.*) Anyway, I told her I was there to learn photography and refused to drop the class. For the last 40 years photography has helped pay the bills and been a key source of personal creativity. Be someone who builds up others rather than tear them down. (Especially if you’re a teacher.)

P.S. I took the above photo on Lake Howell last week from a kayak. I didn’t have to worry about rewinding the film because it was shot from an iPhone. I have taken my Nikon out a couple of times, but so far my better shots have been with the iPhone. I’m grateful for my film and darkroom experience, but love having a device that can quickly grab and process (and share) a vision you see.

*There are apps now to give your photos the effect of “flashing” and light leaks.

Scott W. Smith is the author of Screenwriting with Brass Knuckles

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I’ll continue my run of posts on Hamilton Monday. But today I want to post a couple videos that Apple just dropped featuring writer/director Damien Chazelle (La La Land, Whiplash).

A couple of years ago I did a presentation at a college and was asked what camera I was excited about most. I knew they were to hear me say one of the Arri or Red camera but I said the iPhone. I had just shot a multimedia project that included everything from a traditional video camera, a Nikon DSLR, a Go Pro, and an iPhone7+.

I loved the simplicity of shooting stills and videos on the fly with the iPhone. (Plus I was using the DJI OSMO stabilizer and the FilMic Pro app so I was pretty blown away by the imagine.

Judging from the looks in the room back in 2007, I had just made a filmmaking faux pas. But I feel vindicated by what’s transpired over the last three years. Chazelle’s videos are just the latest to get some attention. But one more reminder that it’s the filmmaker with vision that’s more important than the camera used.

Twenty years ago I saw these changes coming when I was doing a shoot in Pennsylvania. The year before I had done a traditional DigiBeta SP shoot hiring a three person crew out of Pittsburgh. But because of budget restrictions I was working as a one-man band on this shoot and had rented a Sony PD-150 for a couple hundred dollars. I remember reading the camera manuel on the flight, and trying to wrap my head around the menu. Most film and videos cameras up until then were pretty straight forward.

But the year before, The Blair Witch Project came out and helped change expectations. There were a whole bunch of indie films that were hitting around then shot on digital video cameras. One of my favorites (that I’ve written about several times over the years) is Pieces of April (2003). That film still holds up well today because of the writing and performances.

When the Panasonic DVX 100 camera out one of my cameraman friends couldn’t stop talking about the 24P film look he was getting out of it. In 2003, I purchased a DVX100 and slowing watched as others adopted a new way of doing things. A few years later the switch to HD footage took over. Around 2009/2010 DSLR cameras became an indie favorite, and in 2015 Sean Baker released Tangerine and really showed the world what could be done with an iPhone,

Inspired by what Baker did, Steven Soderbergh shot Unsane (2018) and High Flying Bird (2019) on an iPhone.. I’m not saying that the iPhone is the greatest camera in the world—and neither Baker or Soderbergh used one on their latest films—but it’s earned a seat at the table.

And film school should be the last place to snub their noses at iPhones. What better way to have students cranking out footage than using an iPhone? Make a one minute film day one. Fail, learn, and then make another film.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“What does love look like? …It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Saint Augustine, Confessions

Late Saturday afternoon I drove into St. Augustine, Florida passing over the Bridge of Lions and because the light was fading quickly I had to double park to take this photo with my iPhone. St. Augustine at sunset is a visual feast I never get tired of seeing.

Lion_3288small.jpg

Scott W. Smith

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Postcard #122 (Morning Mist)

MorningMist

I took this iPhone photo this morning shortly after sunrise. The thing about these kinds of shots is you only have about 10 minutes when the right conditions come together and then it’s gone.

Scott W. Smith

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I went down to Captain Tony’s to get out of the heat
When I heard a voice call out to me, “Son, come have a seat”
Jimmy Buffet/Last Mango in Paris

captaintonys_5256

Though today’s postcard comes from Key West (where I was yesterday) this is the first international post in the nine years of writing this blog. So greetings from Cozumel.

Despite having higher end Panasonic and Nikon cameras with me on the production I’m on, the clear winner after two days is the Apple iPhone 7plus. Speed is the issue. Yesterday I only had four hours to capture an overall essence of Key West in the daytime.

The versatility of which you can shoot stills and videos is a strength of iPhones, but the iPhone 7 Plus cell phone/camera is a significant jump up from the iPhone 4s I just upgraded from. I’m shooting a lot of footage in 120 (and some in 240) frames per second which is serious slow motion. Today I’ll also shoot in 4K.

I’m also using the FiLMiC Pro camera app (which only costs $9.99) a lot which allows you to shoot in 24p and also disable the in camera stabilizer. It’s also easy to lock focus and exposure. Because I knew I’d be on the move a lot shooting in Key West gave me a chance to test the DJI Osmo Mobile.

While it’s always best to test out equipment well before a shoot, sometimes you just have to roll the dice. In this case, I just booked this shoot a week ago. Did some research and then finally pulled the trigger on buying the DJI Osmo less than 24 hours before my cruise ship departed.

After purchasing it in Orlando and driving to Miami, at around midnight I finally got to open the box set-up the battery to charge. At 2:3o AM it didn’t appear to be charging. I went to sleep thinking it was a bust and I’d just return it after the cruise.

But in the morning it all fired up so it gave me hope. We left that day out of the Port of Miami and the next day while on Old Town Trolly Tours I finally had a chance to start shooting with it and my first impression is it’s great. Very user friendly is getting Stedicam-like shots from an iPhone. (Note: I once owned a Stedicam Merlin and I never really could balance the dang thing. The DJI Osmo took less than five minute to balance.)

One sad note on my quick trip to Key West is that it’s changed a lot since I first visited there in 1981 or ’82. Back then it still had a bohemian/artistic/drop out of society feel to it. Today it feels like Orlando.  I have nothing against Starbucks or CVS Pharmacy, but places like that take away from the other-worldness that Key West once had. But you’re still closer to Havana, Cuba than a Walmart… and there’s still Captain Tony’s, and Sloppy Joe’s, and Hemingway’s house, etc. etc.  Just don’t go there expecting to see a quaint   seaside hippy village unless you can go in 1971. Aside from that go for at least 4 days, not four hours. That gives you time to decompress and find the secret gems of Key West.

And especially for content creators, Key West is still a visual feast.

P.S. For what it’s worth, two of my most memorable dining experiences came from a trip to the Keys years ago. Louie’s Backyard in Key West and Little Palm Island (just a boat ride away from Key West).

Related posts:
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 1)
Jimmy Buffett in Iowa (Part 4)
Sing Along with Mitch in Margaritaville

Scott W. Smith

 

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