Wednesday, May 18, 2011


To all the readers of this blog.  i have been posting on my companies blog   if you want to continue reading about the behind the scenes of our production.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010 Part 1 - The Pitch

Instead of just an announcement, I wanted to take this opportunity to really go in depth about the making of a commercial campaign for the IAC's  Over the next few weeks, I will post detailed blogs about every stage of production from the pitch to the writing, casting, shooting, equipment and post production.    I think this is a great opportunity to explain how we work at my company Civilian Studios,  but also to highlight the changing face of where I think advertising and production are moving. I really hope you enjoy this.

I met with at the IAC back in July and found out about their very exciting new venture Now the IAC is a huge conglomerate of internet companies run by Barry Diller.   IAC owns Daily Beast,, College Humor,, evite and about 60 other internet companies. The Proust website attempts to bring you closer to your family by posing a series of questions designed to provide insight to your story and who you are.  Your answers are stored in a private secure intimate website called (named after the famed questionnaire associated with the French writer Marcel Proust.) In addition you can upload photos, videos and even old reports cards.  It's like a virtual family album combined with a documentary or in-depth interview.

IAC had already met with several producers and even some high end advertising agencies about helping them launch the campaign. they asked me to go back and think of some ideas and put together a proposal. I put together a spec spot using a documentary I had made of my parents just one year before.  At the time I asked all sorts of questions, just like the questionnaire.  So I decided to put that material to use and created a 30 second spot from it.  Aren't my parents cute?

My idea for the campaign was to film real people from all ages and walks of life and ask them questions directly from the questionnaire.  Because my background is as a documentary filmmaker i thought this would give the most emotional and interesting responses while also testing their product.  Of course it would be done elegantly and with some artistry and employ an old weathered feeling.  Like the feeling of a really beautifully made picture album bound in leather.

Now some of you are probably wondering is it necessary to make a spec spot for a pitch. The answer is no. In fact some people would say that its not a good idea. In this case though I had the footage and thought it would really illustrate how powerful straight answers could be. I shot this spot on the 5d used some stock music and did the VO myself. In addition I wrote a very detailed proposal complete with schedule and budget. Again this was not a typical proposal, and I did not do the standard AICP bid but gave them a general idea. We would shoot all ten spots over the course of a few days and create enough content to make at least 9 spots and one longer into video that would live on their site.

We waited a few weeks and then we found out the great news that we had won the project.  My next steps were to meet with my amazing producer Sam Milgrim and with fabulous writer Susan Perlbachs.   Stay tuned for the next blog post about writing and casting the spots.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Andrew Cuomo Campaign

I recently directed a project for Andrew Cuomo's run for Governor of New York. The video was written by Jonathan Cranin, former Worldwide Creative Director for McCann and produced by Concentric Entertainment (Craig Anderson), DPs myself, Ben Jacks and Chris Bierlein. I worked with a small crew and shot the spot on both the 5d M2 and the Varicam 3700. I will limit my comments on this blog mostly to production matters.

So the shots with people, I shot on the 5d (myself as DP/Sound and few PAs, producer, staff) and Cuomo on the Varicam (full crew gaffer/sound, staff etc...) Surprisingly, I think the 5d not only holds up against the $60,000 + camera, but in image quality/depth of field, it arguably surpasses it. But when it came down to it, it's the "not ready for prime time" shortcomings in audio and output capabilities that caused us to go with the other camera.

Another main reason we shot with the Varicam for the shots of Cuomo was the monitoring aspect. We wanted to be able to have two monitors: one for the clients and one for myself as well as a viewing option for the DP, and that is just not possible on the 5d. There are solutions with an HDMI splitter but they are not reliable.  Another important reason to choose the Varicam was the need for a quick turnaround for audio since we were also recording Cuomo's longer policy address as well. Again a big short coming for the 5d.

But for the outdoor, man on the street shots, the 5d was amazing. And my Tascam Dr-100, combined with Sennheiser wireless mics and my think tank multimedia bag worked like a gem for the MOS shots.

So what's the lesson here? It's important in this HDSLR revolution to know the limits of these cameras. It's not the be all and end all. It's just a tool like anything else and it should be used as such when it is appropriate. I ran into a fellow doc filmmaker in B&H recently and she was asking me whether to buy an HDSLR or an EX3. Listening to her thoughts, I ended up agreeing with her to go for the EX3. It's a much more common camera, and btw, a lot of networks have not approved the 5d for use on TV shows.

On another note, I was truly moved to be a part of this moment. As a documentary filmmaker, I am usually in the business of capturing a moment from a distance or retelling the history of a moment. But in this instance, I was actually helping create it. And that was thrilling. And seeing this particular politician at this juncture in his his career was both fascinating and a privilege.

Another note,  thanks so much to an amazing crew particularly Scott Olnhausen, Tiffany Faigus (extraordinary production manage and producer) and literally the god of locations - Ernie Karpeles. Literally the best location scout I have ever had the privilege to work with.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sony enters HDSLR Game - but is it enough?

Anyone who has been reading this blog will know that I'm a huge supporter of HDSLR technology and have been shooting on the 5d for over a year now and invested more money than I would like on equipment. In return though, I have made back my investment almost immediately and the camera has allowed me to be involved with some amazing projects I otherwise would not have the opportunity to direct. (I can't reveal at the moment but stay tuned... will blog about the latest developments).

Now having said that, many of my friends and colleagues in the tv and film business have wanted to delve into the technology. But given the ridiculous 5d rig I've built and how completely jerry rigged the whole thing is, I haven't really recommended it. I mean there have been times where I forget to push record on my Tascam or plug it into the camera in run and gun situations and have no sound. A lot of the time I'm shooting I am alone and it's a lot to have to think about.

That's why there new hybrid cameras like Panasonic's AG-AF100 and now Sony's entry with an interchangeable lens HD camcorder are welcome news. This new sony entry takes the technology it's developed for its tiny EXMOR 4/3rds chip from their NEX-3 and NEX-5 and put it in a standard camcorder body.  From what I can see from the video below though, there are no XLR inputs, and also I couldn't find an adapter that would allow one to use Canon, Nikon or PL mount lenses on it.  In addition, like the Panasonic AF100 the camera records in the inferior AVCHD codec.  Not broadcast quality.

Yes it's been over a year and a half and HDSLR revolution has changed my career, but at the same time the love affair is starting to fade.  Are these cameras the answer?  From the specs, I would say no.  The chips are still not full frame, and price point for entry is much higher by about 2 to 3 times. But the silver lining in all this is that Big Companies like Sony are starting to jump on the HDSLR bandwagon and are listening and responding to those of us who have a love hate relationship with these cameras.