Sunday, September 23, 2012

a film is born

As long as I can remember, I've been a huge film buff. Film junkie may be a better descriptive. Greats such as Kubrick, Stone, Hitchcock, Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Hughes and Welles are just a few names that have spent, or are spending, their careers creating films that baffle audiences worldwide.

When becoming a photographer, my passion for film had escalated to another level. Becoming more and more familiarized behind the lens, creating and painting with light, studying composition and color, I became more obsessed, now watching movies with a careful, discerning eye. Now, rather than simply watching a movie for the sake of watching a movie, I have since found myself reverse engineering each and every scene, observing camera angles, lighting, technique and many other aspects of the filmmaking process.

It wasn't long after I began shooting that I had discovered another niche; the short. I had learned that there were a handful of photographers, photographers whom I have admired for some time, that were also shooting short films. Shooters such as Chase Jarvis and Vincent Laforet were creating films, although short in length, amazing in terms of content and quality. I highly recommend doing a bit of research on these to photographic geniuses as I could spend hours upon hours writing about their journey to where they are today.

Fact of the matter is that these guys and many others have technology to thank for their successes in the film industry. Laforet may have been the pioneer in that regards. What happened, about three or four years ago, was that the camera industry had made a gigantic technological leap with their products, products that we as photographers use on a daily basis. The leap I speak of was creating DSLR cameras that could also shoot broadcast quality HD film. The Nikon d90 and the Canon 5d mark ii were the industries first in that regards. Now, photographers could shoot beautiful cinematic video without the need for cameras that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today, with the right skill set, and a few thousand dollars, a photographer can put out a motion picture that can rival, if not surpass, film quality created with budgets well into the millions. Times have changed.

More after the jump...

At the time all of this was happening, I was shooting a midrange DSLR that did not yet have the video feature. Although I was intrigued by this groundbreaking technology, I wasn't quite in any rush to upgrade my system as I had little if any knowhow about film production. This is not to say I wasn't super impressed with what was being produced. Once the level of quality was now obtainable without having an account in the Cayman's, my curiosity had grown, not to make a film but to watch and admire what was happening on comparably small budgets. Vimeo had become one of my goto resources for studying the work of indie filmmakers worldwide. The results were astounding. My itch had begun.

About four months ago I had received my new photographic system, the Nikon D4 and an array of Nikon's Nikkor professional glass. I invested in the new system, not for the fact that it has awesome HD video features but for the sole reason that my work required a big upgrade. Projects have been coming in that required a superior photographic system and my other system had become a bit antiquated. The new gear now allowed me to better serve clients. As for its superior video abilities, although curious, I had not really experimented, yet.

That was all about to change.

As you may or may not know, I've recently been contracted to work as the BTS photographer on director Karol Escobar's short, All Hallows' Eve. The project has been a bit life changing. Now I've spent some time on large movie sets and have always been impressed at the work that goes into making a feature film. But working on the set of All Hallows' Eve had really changed my entire thought process. Working closely on the set for long hours had given me a better clarity of the logistics for putting together a film. Observing Karol and DP Jordan Parrott was an enormous educational experience. Director Karol Escobar was bringing her vision to life as DP Jordan Parrott was making careful decisions of how each and every shot would be executed. With a cast and crew of nearly thirty dedicated and hard working individuals, the project grew legs and took off running like a well oiled machine. Needless to say, it was an honor to be part of the big machine. Furthermore, my film itch had now intensified exponentially. It had to be scratched.

Once filming had wrapped, the cast and crew went on their ways to wherever it was they had came from. I sat in my vehicle that dawn of wrapping, in silence, contemplating my next project. The feelings that I was having were no longer simple curiosities. The best way to explain it is when somebody gets a song in their head that they cannot explain how it got there but cannot get rid of, no matter how hard they try. This had happened to me. More than just wanting to make a short, I had a clear vision of what, and to some extent, how it would be shot.

The birthing process of my directorial debut had begun.

One of the key facts that I learned from working on All Hallows' Eve, and a fact that Karol Escobar had emphasized on more than one occasion was that creating a film is similar to working in a community. Community. No single person can complete a project of such size. It is a team effort and that team needs to be strong in skill, be it technical, emotional and communicative. All parts must work in sync, as one, to create the final product.

Aware of these logistics I had begun preparation. Already having an idea in mind, I contacted whom I thought would be the best part for the lead role (I can't give away too much). I was thrilled to learn that the actor was more than willing but eager to work on the project.

Coincidentally, an old friend of mine, Edward Campbell, had recently reached out to me. We contacted each other and spoke of a photo project that he wanted to commission me for. I mention the coincidence of his reaching out since Ed is a screenwriter, having worked on a number of shorts and feature length films. After discussing the photo shoot, I threw at him, with much fear and hesitation, my film idea. Our conversation went on for hours as we both discussed details of the story. Ed loved the idea and explained to me that he would have a rough draft in my hands within the next couple of days. Sure enough, there it was, awaiting my reading in my Gmail inbox. Like a kid on Christmas, I couldn't wait to open it. It was beautiful, seeing the font that is so prevalent for screenplay writing. Times New Roman? Courier? Helvetica? Hell, I don't have a clue about fonts but that one just shouts out to me, SCREENPLAY!

Shit, this thing is becoming a reality, and a fast one at that. The song that won't leave my head has now been amped with giant woofers pounding the bass on my brain. All the Seroquel in the world couldn't cure this OCD and you know what? I wouldn't want it to. Once that screenplay hit my hands, I knew there was no turning back and that brings us to where we are today.

Time to grow my community.

So, things have a nice start. Within days of really truly contemplating the making of my first short, I have, on the team, awesome screenwriter, Edward Campbell, a lead actor, a couple supporting roles, a producer, my wife Stefanie, who has extensive television experience, some tentative shooting locations that still need to be analyzed and finally, some basic gear. Now, I'm not working with a budget that will allow me to have a cast and crew of thirty, as Karol's production did, but I'm still short a few key players. I will most definitely need some other bad ass additions to the crew for production and post production purposes. If you are willing to work for bagels and donuts, with an awesome addition to your portfolio then be sure to shoot me an email at At the end of this post I will list the positions that still need to be filled and will update that list as those slots are taken.

I have mentioned the word gear. Yep, as you may very well know, I'm quite the gear head and I couldn't wrap up this post without getting nerdified. I saved the best for last. If you are a gear headed nerd such as myself, enjoy. If not, unless you want to learn a thing or two about cinema gear, then run for the hills. Have a nice day and I won't be offended if you decide to get back to your world of Facebook. Of course if interested in working on the project, see the end list and email your resume/reel/work/etc.

Now that the plain folk have exited the building, let's get down and dirty about toys.

I had mentioned that I do have a limited amount of gear to get the film underway. For filming purposes, I will be shooting on the Nikon D4 and all its glass that I have available. Be sure to check out the camera's spec sheet to see its capabilities in the HD world.

For sticks, I can surely get away with my Feisol professional tripod system.

Jeez, that's about it, aside from a few other minor accessories, I am quite limited in the realm of film production. The world of motion is quite different from the world of stills. My strobes and Pocketwizards are pretty useless for film production.

Yes, my fellow geeks, it is time to invest in some cinema product.

I have already been scouring my B & H catalog, trying to find the right gear to match what it is I want to shoot with the budget I have to work with (and it ain't a whole hell of a lot).

I posted a couple images here to show just a bit of gear that I'm in the market for, but on a more frugal scale, without skimping on quality of course.

The camera you are seeing at the post opening is the RED Epic, a beast of a cinema camera. That baby, in all its glory as shown, has got to be rounding well past the six figure mark! No worries there as I already have the appropriate camera to get the job done on a professional level. To the untrained eye, they may be seeing just a whole mess of camera in that image but to the experienced, they see a multitude of individual components perched on that tripod, all with very specific duties. That's what I have dissected and have been searching high and low to find myself the perfect fit, along with everything else.

First of all, I will be getting a fluid head to use in place of my Feisol ball head. The ball head is an outstanding head for still photography but has little, if any, place in the film world. In that image you see an OConnor fluid head. That one is about twenty years old but probably still runs a couple thousand bucks. New OConnor heads run upwards and even past the ten thousand dollar mark. A bit high for my budget. I've been leaning towards the Manfrotto fluid head. The price and its features are a good match for the shots I will need to pull of during the filming process.

Above the OConnor head, in the image, is where you begin to see a mess of stuff happening. Well, that mess of stuff is, believe it or not, very organized and done so via a "rig". A rig is usually made of some sort of base plate, some rails and other components on which you can build your filming system. Added to the rig is usually your follow focus, matte box, monitor(s), battery and maybe some other goodies. I haven't made a final decision in the rig department although there are a few brands that I've been leaning towards. First and in my opinion most bad ass are the Redrock rigs. I totally dig the Redrock rigs but they seem to be a bit pricey. Steadicam makes some rigs but I haven't explored those as of yet. Ikan and CPM are two companies that seem to make very good products at prices that are much more acceptable with my working budget.

Follow focus systems are something I've been super detailed with in my decision making process. If you are not familiar with what a follow focus system is, again, take a look at the opening image. Notice the big knob with the with disc? That is the main control for the follow focus. Follow focus systems are gear driven and allow the camera operator or first AC to "pull focus" from a comfortable and efficient position. I'm sure there is a better definition in the dictionary but without getting too fancy, that is the basis of the follow focus system. That disc is also handy as you can, with a marker, add your start and end points for "racking focus."

On the front of the rig you see a large box with shades all around. That's called a matte box. The purpose of the matte box is to cut down on lens flare and allow for easy addition and/or removal of ND or other types of lens filters. I have yet to find a matte box that fits into my budget and haven't decided, for my shooting purposes, if I even need one. My lens hoods will more than suffice for cutting flare but for quick and easy filter changes, the matte box may be something I invest in, given the proper quality at the proper price.

At the rear of the rig and perched up high you can clearly see on that pimp setup that there are two monitors, one on either side of the camera. On that particular rig, the DP was working with a first AC. Two monitors allowed each of them to have a clear vantage of what was being shot. Do I need two? Not a chance in hell. One will be just fine. Marshall is the go to choice for the pros and they are fairly reasonable in price. I was leaning towards Ikan for the features and slightly better pricing. Still up in the air.

All in all, I think with the components I just discussed, the shots I have in mind would be smoothly pulled off, with, hopefully, zero problems.

Lighting. Yep, my strobes are useless in the film world unless I want to give the audience a seizure to some annoying degree. For filming and obvious reasons, one needs continuous or "hot" lights. Hands down, ARRI, is the film industries go to lighting brand and there is a reason for that. Their lights are big and powerful. As for price, the ARRI lineup is quite vast. I'm not working on a Spielberg budget so the 4K HMI or PAR ARRI lamps are a bit out of my price range. The power is a bit much as well. A 4k can light up a small city with one bulb. I'm opting for the ARRI 650 fresnel. For the spaces I will need to light and what I'll be lighting, this is more than enough power. From a quantitative and qualitative standpoint, I'm hoping that with each shot that the ambient, coupled with the ARRI 650 and some reflectors for fill, will be just the right formula. For mod'ing the light, my existing brollies and softbox will do the trick. For support, my ten and twelve foot stands are more than capable for this type of light.

For the higher end stuff, that should be about it. I'm sure I'll figure out something or another that I will need, after getting on location and analyzing each shot. But for the time being, that will suffice.

Ah, but there is more. Just when you thought it was over! Almost, I swear.

I have an entire list of DIY equipment that can me made with a few bucks and some creativity. Things that I do not want to purchase as if I did, would have absolutely nowhere to store, or afford for that matter.

These are two very specific items that can me made at home and serve a huge importance for any film set. The dolly and the slider. With some PVC pipes, wood and skateboard wheels, anyone can make these super important filmmaking devices on the cheap. These allow for the smooth movements of cameras across any type of terrain. Some leveling may be required in some instances but for what I'm shooting, most of the ground should be pretty flat...

...Ok, I've had enough blogging for one day. It's time for quits when my eyes begin to cross and that had begun many paragraphs ago.

I will be sure to keep you guys posted as the production continues to make progress.

The journey will be long and difficult but has already begun and there is no turning back now.

Cast And Crew Open Call (TFP)

Director: Michael Anthony Murphy

Screenwriter: Edward Campbell

Producer: Stefanie Murphy

Music/orignal score by: Avi Lasser

DP: *filled*

1st AC: open

Gaffer: open

PA: open

Audio: open

Editor/post production: open

MUA: open

Lead: *filled*

Supporting: *filled*

Homeless man: *filled*

Elderly woman: open

Elderly man: *filled*

Young man: open

Young woman: open

If interested in any of the above positions, live in the Philadelphia area and are willing to work TFP, please contact Michael Anthony Murphy at

List will be updated as positions are filled. There may also be positions and/or roles to be added and/or removed as production continues.