Big day today – I finally put together a short video production demo reel (or is it a promo?) that shows what Video Dads is all about. Take a look!
A few months ago when I was shooting the “Off the Grid Artist” episode in Sheep Mountain, a carpenter came up and asked me what I was doing. He was working on Wendy Smith-Wood’s cabin at the time. I told him about Indie Alaska, and then he told me about his old timey family band. Folks, you just can’t plan for this kind of luck.
In Alaska, the Overbys are renown in the bluegrass scene for putting on the Granite Creek Bluegrass Festival every summer. It’s possibly the most authentic pickers fest in the state – the majority of attendees are musicians, and to preserve the authenticity of the festival, they don’t even announce the concert date until about a week prior on the Borealis Bluegrass Breakdown, a show on KNBA 90.1 public radio.
Unfortunately, I have never made it to the festival (I don’t think my guitar skills are ready for 12-hour campfire jam sessions), but the family story sounded perfect for Indie Alaska. So Travis Gilmour and I drove out to Sutton, Alaska one day, and within 10 minutes we caught Jason Overby driving by. This is definitely a small town.
We started at the Sutton Library, where Jason’s girlfriend and sister were silkscreening t-shirts. And then we went to his other sister’s cabin-in-process. Jason and his family embody old timey values, and his choice of an old Volvo, their cabin building process (using only recycled wood from the area), and their gardening all fit into their world views.
After a tour of their homes and livelihoods, we went to record a couple live performances at the home of Charlie Overby, the family patriarch. Travis and I manned two cameras with audio recording from a Lav mic (hidden in the rocks) as well as directly to our cameras via shotguns.
It wasn’t a high end recording, but it worked. The thing I most realized while shooting the Overbys performing is, man, these guys really love hanging out and playing music together.
Afterwards the Overbys started cooking a meal (with all the ingredients harvested locally), and Travis and I set up for interviews outside their shop. The light was quickly fading, so right off the bat we used two battery-powered 500 LED lights instead of our typical one light for indoor interviews.
And then when it got completely dark, the Overbys found some shop lights that we could plug in to long extension cables, to light up the trailer in the background. That way the background wasn’t completely dark. It worked out really nicely, I think.
And here’s what two fully lit lights with umbrellas look like in complete darkness.
After all was said and done, Travis spent the better part of an entire weekend editing 3 extensive interviews into a short 7-minute edit. He basically transcribed most of the interviews, and then we put the story edit together using Stickies. This is pretty essential when you have so much interview material to work with.
In the end, Travis worked the radio edit a bunch more before starting to lay down the B-roll, as well as finding room for the multicam song performances. But it was worth the effort, and we made some pretty cool new friends in the process!
When Travis and I booked our trip to Juneau, the first Indie Alaska video we thought of was an episode on Marian Call.
I’ve known Marian for a few years now. When I first moved to Alaska 7 years ago and knew nobody here, I remember recognizing Marian in a lot of places – at the coffee shops where I hung out, at the Jazz bar where I worked.
When I went on Craigslist to buy my first piece of furniture in Alaska – an Ikea table – the seller happened to be Marian. She was getting rid of all her stuff before going on tour. This is what Marian does, she tours. A lot. After that, I hadn’t seen her for a few years. And then she moved to Juneau.
So when Travis and I were looking for an Indie Alaska episode idea in Juneau, we assumed we Marian would be out of town during our 3 day visit … but we called just in case. Turns out, she was going to be home for those 3 days. What luck!
Marian Call is the hardest working musician I know. Making music is a small part of her life – the rest is connecting with her fans online and at gatherings and concerts. That might be why her fans are so dedicated – because Marian is just as committed to her fans as they are to her.
Travis Gilmour did all the work on this episode, from shooting, interviewing, to editing, so he deserves much of the credit here. Marian gave us a ton of really great footage from her Europe tour, and in addition to her music catalog she also recorded a few songs for us live. So, a big part of the project was working to reduce a ton of really great stuff to a 5-minute video.
You learn a lot of things about people when you make a video story about them. So even though I’ve known Marian somewhat for a number of years, I think I’m a lot more aware of all the diligence and smart planning that has made Marian Call a household name in Alaska, from coffee shops to jazz bars.
And, I also learned about a secret bakery in Juneau. And also this book store. The lady that owns it, Dee, is a map collector. A quick visit led to a several-hour-long conversation about early new world cartographers.
So if you’re thinking of visiting Juneau, you might as well block out a few hours of your schedule to visiting the Observatory Bookstore.…
My wife is accustomed to my working on weekends, but I think I set a new precedence by combining an Indie Alaska shoot while also celebrating our 1-year wedding anniversary (!), while also shooting photos for a band (!!), while also pre-producing another future episode (!!!).
The way it happened was like this: on a Saturday morning Travis Gilmour and I drove out to Girdwood to meet with mushroom expert Kate Mohatt. While we usually stay away from the more newsy stories for Indie Alaska episodes, this year for some reason mushrooming is really big in Alaska, and we just couldn’t kick our curiosity.
Kate Mohatt was featured in this Anchorage Daily News article by Julia O’Malley – http://www.adn.com/2013/08/18/3031314/secrets-of-the-fungi-forest.html – so we contacted Kate for a shoot on the weekend of the Girdwood Fungus Fair.
While Travis set up the interview with Kate (against a window, which actually turned out nice with only one LED light), I went out with another forest ranger to shoot B-roll of mushrooms and crowds on a foray. It was humid and rainy, so I had to leave all my car windows open while driving around – to prevent the camera lens from fogging up – which made sure everything in my car got nice and soaked.
After dropping off the ranger at the Fungus Fair headquarters, I was then supposed to meet a big group of hunters at the Hand Tram parking lot. But… I mistakenly went to the other Hand Tram parking lot, the one on the opposite side of the trail. After about 10 minutes of waiting for a big group of mushroom hunters to show up, my phone rang, and Travis had finished the interview and was ready to get picked up and go shoot more B-roll with Kate at her secret spot.
So yeah, at this point the story was no longer going to be about big groups of enthusiastic mushroom hunters crowding the trampled patches. Sometimes that’s the way it works – the story is dependent on the visuals you have to match the interview narration. Which was okay by me, because I really wanted to focus more on the mushrooms anyway.
At her favorite spot, Kate showed us a bunch of different mushrooms, while explaining their Latin names and significance. But honestly, it’s hard to pay full attention to those kinds of things when you’re focused on operating the camera and getting a good shot. So at one point, it wasn’t until after I swallowed an edible mushroom that I heard Kate remind me to “chew it up and spit it out, to avoid getting sick.” Oops.
The best part of this shoot was finally getting a chance to try out our Glidecam steadicam. This was the perfect opportunity, and we spent some time earlier in the week practicing to balance it. All of that goes out the window when you’re on the shoot and have no time for little adjustments, so little things like figuring out how to use a wrist strap was no longer priority. And man, did my wrist hurt after this. For a few days actually.
But my wrist didn’t hurt as much as my ego – when, while walking backwards in front of Kate, I accidentally stepped off a wooden bridge and fell into a deep puddle. Real professional.
Anyway after all this, my wife met us at the Sitzmark for some lunch, Travis drove himself home, and my wife and I celebrated our one-year anniversary in beautiful Girdwood with a live performance by one of our favorite bands, Super Saturated Sugar Strings. Since I already had my stills camera, I couldn’t help shooting some photos for the band during their set.
Of course using some of the shot framing principles I’ve learned while shooting video, like using a blurry foreground to bring attention to the subjects.
And after all that, we met some really nice people, shared a bottle of wine with them, and worked on pre-producing a future Indie Alaska episode with one of them. Isn’t it great when life and work can come together in a long day of productivity?
Or maybe it was that mushroom I wasn’t supposed to swallow….…
Last month, I had the privilege of helping my friend Cara Fairbanks with her Indiegogo campaign video for WhiteWater Wellness. If you haven’t already, take a moment to check out (and support!) this awesome project: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/whitewater-wellness-well-engaged-well-connected-well-being
When shooting a documentary, I would usually shoot a lot of B-roll, conduct an extensive interview, and then go back and try to distill hours of footage into a short, compelling video story.
But with a short campaign pitch video, every word and shot is pretty much planned out in advance. Cara and I scripted the pitch, and then in a Google Doc, we laid out the visuals.
Our goal was to do everything within short proximity to the office we were lucky enough to loan, with two friends as models, and to do it all under 4 hours of shooting.
On the day of the shoot, Anchorage was raining heavily for days before and after. Luckily we had about an hour window of rainless, cloudy skies (perfect for shooting). I arranged all the visuals from the script (right column) into Interior shots first, Exterior shots second, and organized by model in case they arrived or left at different times.
After all the B-roll was complete, we setup for the pitch in a hallway where there was a lot of depth behind the subject. After we recorded the friends/models voicing the WhiteWater Wellness mission statements, we moved on to Cara’s pitch.
In addition to the main camera, I had a second camera on a little Goby Gorrilapod, for a cutaway shot (and for additional audio, if something happened to the primary lav audio).
After syncing everything into FCPX multicam files, the editing process began (and several re-edits, shortening the video each time). Believe it or not, one of the hardest parts of a campaign pitch video is finding the right music, especially if you’re trying to avoid spending hundreds of dollars (or more) for commercial rights. One day I’ll do a long post about places for music, but first I gotta ask other video shooters where they get their tracks.
The “screenshots” of the Indiegogo webpage in the video had to be made before the campaign went live, so after some help with Photoshop, I recorded a video screencast of checking out the mockup website. I know there are other apps out there, but if you have a Mac you can make a screencast with the Quicktime Player under File -> New Screen Recording.
And finally, the last two shots use a little bit of trickery to achieve that ACS ad look – you know, little miniature people and cars where everything else is blurred out. You can do this with Crumplepop’s ShrinkRay plugin in FCPX, and then speed up the video so the cars move like little miniature toys.
I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look at an Indiegogo pitch video. Please go to the WhiteWater Wellness Indiegogo page and read more about the project!
When Travis and I landed in Juneau, we had a few ideas for Indie Alaska episodes, but we also wanted to get input from the town locals before committing to our entire schedule. So when we asked our friends and colleagues at KTOO for ideas, they all said, “You have to do an episode on Collette Costa.”
Then we asked other folks in town, and they all said, “Collette Costa.” Apparently, Collette is ingrained in just about every part of Juneau’s art and culture scene. So when we went out looking for her, we found her almost instantly.
Honestly, the hardest part of this episode was honing in on one aspect of Collette that we could focus on. When we started the series, we settled on the “I Am A _____” title scheme, to help us better define the person and his/her distinctiveness before going in on any episode.
With Collette, we brainstormed a hundred descriptions for who she is and what she does, and they all fit. My first radio edit focused on all these aspects of her, and I was thinking something along the lines of “I Am A Renaissance Woman.”
But when I showed John Norris a rough edit, he suggested I narrow the story, partly because I didn’t have B-roll of all of these other things Collette does, like her theatrical performances, her music, her MC and radio duties, her life and work on the boat, and her early years in Alaska in the SE town of Pelican.
After I narrowed the focus, the rest of the edit process became a breeze. With both Travis and I shooting B-roll, we had about 10x more footage than we needed, in the theater and on her boat, as well as out in the community as she walked to choir practice. It’s a little time consuming to go through and log all the video, especially knowing I won’t use most of it. But, when it comes down to putting the story together, having all the usable shots ready to go is so important to staying in the “story zone.”
So, what do you think of the episode? I just figured out how to eliminate the comment moderation barrier on this blog, so no holds barred, folks!
My partner in crime Travis Gilmour and I went down to Juneau last weekend to shoot a few Indie Alaska episodes, in addition to other video projects. In the madness of 3 days of shooting, we pretty much only had time for late night eating, which in Juneau means the Pel’meni place.
Naturally, we made an Indie Alaska out of it. Where else can you shoot a video at midnight?
We first went in and talked to several of the employees one evening, and they all said co-worker Nicholas would be the perfect subject of the episode. The next day we met up with him and made the plans.
For the interview, we wanted a quiet place that we could shoot at night. We tried setting up lights in our hotel room, but it was reallllyy creeepy lookin. So we found a spot in an empty hallway at a mall across the street from the Pel’meni place.
Overall, the B-roll was the easiest shoot I’ve ever done. That’s because the entire scene is enclosed in a small space, there is lots of action (cooking pelmeni), and all the shots were relevant to the what the interview would eventually cover. I wish all videos could be this concrete going in.
Travis shot on the monopod with a wide angle, and I was on the shoulder rig with my handy 17-55mm. Because I’m not a very tall guy, when I do over-the-shoulder shots I have to reach the camera high above me and subject, and this is where the Canon 60D’s movable LCD screen with Magic Lantern’s focus assist is key.
Travis edited this episode, so maybe it seems like the project was easy because I didn’t have to do the difficult story work. One thing I’ve learned is, the easier/simpler the video looks, the harder the editor worked.
Also, I hae to say, Travis miraculously edited this while on an airplane and in close quarters before/after a wedding out of state. We edit on Macbook Pros all on portable USB3 drives (that don’t require AC adapters), so the whole setup is probably less than 5 pounds and fits on an airplane tray, and can run off the Macbook’s battery for a few hours… I can never get over how crazy that is.
Anyway, the best part about this episode is that it inspired my wife to cook pelmeni for my birthday. We get them frozen at the Russian Deli on Arctic and 36th in Anchorage. Mmmm.