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Posts Tagged ‘Vincent Laforet’

“When you can have a positive effect on people’s lives and help them reach their dreams, that is the best reward a teacher can have.”
Ralph Clemente

“A teacher who can arouse a feeling for one single good action, for one single good poem, accomplishes more than he who fills our memory with rows and rows of natural objects, classified with name and form.”
Goethe

ralph-in-his-office-pano

Ralph Clemente in his Valencia College office/Photo by Don Burlinson

Earlier this month filmmaker and educator Ralph Clemente died only three weeks after finding out he had  pancreatic cancer. He was a professor of mine at the University of Miami and known for his infectious inspiration—and Arnold Schwarzenegger-like accent.

In the late eighties he helped start the film program at Valencia College in Orlando where he and his students would have a hand in producing 47 feature films. Over the years the program allowed students to work with Oscar-nominated actresses Julie Harris and Ruby Dee, and Oscar-winning director Robert Wise (who also edited Citizen Kane). Steven Spielberg once called the program, “one of the best film schools in the county.”

Clemente actually had the distinction of being part of the inspiration for a couple of the filmmakers who would go on to make The Blair Witch Project, as well as just this past November having a small part playing a woodman in Game of Thrones

That Game of Thrones episode was directed by David Nutter who was also Clemente’s student at Miami. Clemente produced Nutter’s first feature Cease Fire (which starred an up and coming actor named Don Johnson) which helped launch Nutter’s career that’s included directing gigs on The Sopranos, The X-Files, Entourage, and Band of Brothers. Clemente and Nutter remained friends over the decades so I wasn’t surprised that he hired Clemente as an extra on the set of Game of Thrones shot in Ireland.

(Note: For the younger DSLR crowd, and those totally unfamiliar with Nutter or Clemente, as Vincent Lafort continues making the transition from photographer to filmmaker he’s recently been shadowing the Primetime Emmy-winning Nutter on production sets. It’s all one big interconnected tribe.)

Clemente was born in Germany and actually had his first acting role at the age of two. He moved to Florida as a teenager, studied acting, ending up serving in the Army, before going on to work in TV and film and landing at the University of Miami as filmmaker-in-residence for ten years.

What a life, right? But his legacy is the film program at Valencia which just earlier this year had a 20th Anniversary film festival to celebrate some of the films he and the school helped get made including Sealed with a Kiss which he directed from a script written by his wife Emily.

What sets the Valencia program apart is its early vision. In the late 80s, Disney and Universal built film studios in Orlando, and enough features and TV shows were being shot here (Parenthood, From Earth to the Moon, Passenger 57) that it looked like the promises of central Florida becoming Hollywood East were more than hype. But what there wasn’t a lot of was support personnel grounded in the area— grips, gaffers, camera assistance, etc.

Greg Hale, one of the producers of The Blair Witch project, went through the Valencia film program and more recently worked as an assistant director on The Avengers and Django Unchained. Producer/Director Ben Rock was also a student of Clemente’s:

“One of the best lessons 
Ralph teaches is that production should be fun…My best memories of Valencia are of Ralph, working the set, joking around, telling stories, keeping everybody’s morale up.”
Ben Rock
Vitae Magazine

Clemente always encouraged his students to take chances and I remember editing a student project at Miami where I risked using a Willie Nelson song (Nelson wasn’t quite as hip in Miami in the 80s as he would be with hipsters in Miami today) and it turned out Ralph loved Nelson’s music and would later use one of his songs in a feature he produced.

In college I also remember going to Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a couple of friends on one long weekend road trip but made it back in time for his class on Monday. When I told him I was just off a 12-hour drive to make the class he laughed and told me my grade just went up.

I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people Clemente touched in his life, but he was one of the good guys. In fact, Ralph also had students work on public awareness projects including Make-a-Wish, Health Care for the Homeless, and His House Children’s Home (for abused and neglected kids) which helped raised awareness, donations, and resulted in some adoptions.

This blog is the overflowing of the good influences in my life and part of that DNA is my time spent with Clemente in Miami. And just to come full-circle, since January of this year I’ve been producing projects at Valencia College and while my tools are not film and Moviola’s anymore, what I learned from Ralph Clemente transferred well to digital cameras and non-linear editing. But beyond the technical aspects and production tips you commonly learn in school, Clemente had an upbeat spirit that was less common.

Related Links:
Ralph Clemente: Valencia film pro inspired good stories, Orlando Sentinel
Filmmaking is a Team Art  Friend Oliver Peters who edited four of Clemente’s features remembers working with him.
Valencia Mourns Loss of Filmmaking Legend Ralph Clemente 

P.S. “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at Valencia Foundation, 1768 Park Center Drive, Orlando, FL 32835 or complete online donation form by selecting the Designation “Ralph R. Clemente Scholarship” at donate.valencia.org.

Scott W. Smith

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“For me the act of taking a picture, and the making of pictures … it’s about telling stories, sharing stories.”
Vincent Laforet

Photographer /Filmmaker Vincent Laforet may have been born in Switzerland, cut his photography chops in New York, and currently live in L.A., but where do you think he went to college to lay the foundation for the work he’s doing now? That’s right, he headed to the good ole’ Midwest and got his degree in print  journalism  from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern in Chicago.

So before you think he just picked up a camera and became famous, think again. He started out like everyone else knocking on doors. “As a freshman in college, I was rejected by about eight or nine internships in a row.” But he finally landed an internship at Reuters the summer after his freshman year. He says that opened the door for an internship the next year at the L.A. Times, and the next year with the Miami Herald.

During the school year, back in Chicago he had an opportunity to shoot for AP where he was encouraged to get images “that not everyone else had.” He took full advantage of those opportunities,”I was skipping out on finals and midterms to photograph Jordan’s final game with the Chicago Bulls.”  Seeing how he’s a leader in the HD-DSLR revolution Laforet appears to me a little like Neo in The Matrix. The chosen one.  (Is it just coincidence that The Matrix writers & directors, the Wachowski brothers, are from Chicago?)

So Laforet  has been on the fast track, but he’s also paid he’s dues.  He learned to take pictures from his professional photographer father, entered his first photography contest when he was 15 and 12 years later shared in the 2002 Pulitzer Prize (Feature Photography) as part of The New York Times staff.

“The one reason I did succeed early on in my career was that I was so technical.  I was 16, 17 years old with very little experience and knowledge, but all of my images were tack-sharp and perfectly exposed.   I used to give my father my 30 best slides for the month and he would sort them out, 10 on one side and 20 on the other, pull his scissors out of his drawer and hammer through the 20.  ‘They’re poorly exposed; they’re out of focus.  I don’t want to see them.’  He’s a very, very nice person.  He was just adamant about certain things, so I came from that background.”
Vincent Laforet

You can follow his blog as he helps build the bridge between photographers and filmmakers at blog.vicentlaforet.com. Just a few days ago he wrote about a film contest sponsored by Canon & Viemo called The Story Beyond the Still and I challenge any screenwriter who has never made a short film to submit a video. (February 11, 2010 deadline.) You can read Laforet commets about the contest on his post Canon & Vimeo Contest is Open. I look foward to seeing more of his work in the future.

But keep in mind as you look at equipment, that as the saying goes—‘it’s the violinist, not the violin.” Laforet is one more example of The 10,000 Hour Rule.

(As another Chicago sidenote, check out the webisodes called FilmFellas that Steve Weiss and the gang at Zacuto are producing. Good stuff that I’ll write about later.)

Scott W. Smith

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“The next few years will see photography and filmmaking redefined by technology.   While there is no substitute for exquisite lighting – artists will now be able to explore areas once thought impossible to photograph.”
Vincent Laforet (writing in 2008)

Modern technology, with the Internet leading the charge, has in recent years forever changed the music business, the photography business, the newspaper business and the movie business. This, as I and many other people have written before, has and will cost people jobs—but at the same time it has, and will continue, to offer many creative opportunities for those willing to make the leap.

One of the more recent changes is the advent of HD video being able to be shot on HD-DSLR cameras. (Just think in terms of the old 35mm film camera like the Canon AE-1 on steroids.) These are relatively  inexpensive with the lower end Nikon and Canon cameras coming in between $900.—2,000. without lenses. (Even the high end ones are only in the $5,000-6,000. range, which is in the ballpark of a lot of HDDV cameras out there.) They are still not in a place to replace traditional film and video cameras altogether, but they are producing some pretty high end results as Vincent Laforet and others are showing.

Last year I began to implement select footage from my Nikon D90 into my video productions and I think that will continue to increase in the future. Since this is a blog on screenwriting I won’t get too technical, but a couple things that makes these cameras special is that they are small and portable, have a larger sensor than most sub-$10,000. video cameras, and can record at high ISO speeds. Which basically means they don’t need a large crew and lots of lights to create amazing images. (The RED camera can’t touch these cameras in low-light conditions.)

Below is a short film that was directed by Vincent Laforet, Stu Maschwitz, David Nelson which they shot with a Canon 1D MKIV. Here is what Laforet wrote a couple months ago about the production on a post entitled Lights, Camera, Action:

“Here is the main point that I hope you take into account: the short film you are about to watch was shot in pretty much the very worst light that I could possibly find in an evening urban landscape.  I did not chose ‘pretty lighting’ in a mall or under neon signs.  That would have been cheating in my book.

The short was shot near East 6th and Mateo St. in Los Angeles – in an industrial part of the city.   If you live in the area – go check out the area – you won’t believe the video you see below came from the poor lighting in that area.   Sodium and mercury vapor lights.   That’s it.  Really awful lighting.

Not a single external light source was used / added.  In other words I did not use a single flashlight, LightPanel, flood light – nothing.”

If you’re a writer think of the possibilities. If you’re not interested in picking up a camera, fine–I understand–but at least start aligning yourself with shooters and editors out there who can help bring your words to life in new and exciting ways.

Scott W. Smith

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“The truth is – our way of doing things – not only the way we gather our content, but also the way we package, deliver and the way we expect to be remunerated for that work – is being shattered by a variety of internal and external forces that simply aren’t going to go away.”
Photographer/Filmmaker  Vincent Laforet

If you’ve never heard the name Vincent Laforet—welcome to the future. Three years ago Laforet walked away from a staff photographer position at the New York Times. He says that, “One colleague actually called me ‘stupid.'” But he walked away because he saw the writing on the wall. The newspaper and magazine business was being forever changed. As newspapers began to fold and downsize jobs, Laforet decided the answer was to diversify.

“There is ABSOLUTELY no doubt that every photographer out there should be actively developing their video shooting and editing skills today and learning it at their schools/universities.”
Vincent Laforet

Laforet continued to do contract work with the New York times, but was also able to begin doing commercial work. With one advertising agency he was working with as a photographer, he wanted to be considered for some interactive content they were producing, but he had no film or video demo reel. Having connections at Canon he was able to borrow a prototypes of the Canon 5D Mark II for a weekend in hopes of creating a demo reel. He had 12 hours to shoot what became Reverie. (What he later called, “a bad cologne commercial.” )

He posted the Reverie video online and within 3 days passed the million view mark and by the end of the first week it had passed the 2 million mark. He not only got his demo reel, but it spun his whole career into a new direction.

PDN magazine said, “Seven hours after he posted Reverie, a representative from photo sharing site SmugMug offered to sponsor his next video. Two days later the manager for surfer Jamie O’Brien contacted Lafort about shooting a project together.” Calls from Disney, Industrial Light & Magic, and other big names followed.

In the coming days, I’ll unpack what this means to writers and filmmakers. The video to Reverie is linked below, but the important thing to remember here is this video was made on a 35 mm digital camera that shoots still photos as well as HD video. It was shot in less than a day by a photographer who was hoping to build a video demo reel. (To watch an HD version of the video check out Vincent Laforet’s website. You can also connect to his blog there.)


Scott W. Smith


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