Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Filming with Bacalao

Just a quick update to say that I had a wonderful time filming with Bacalao the other night. Sofia and Marianne were both so personable and professional and the whole thing went so very smoothly. We're putting together a teaser trailer, and we had a very productive discussion and implemented some last minute ideas which went really smoothly. The whole evening was a lovely stress-free experience. Even though this was our last chance to get some meaningful video, I really felt like the weight was off, and everything just went right. Here's hoping the footage is good enough! Will be having a good close look at that soon (I took the lens cap off, right?).

Time, the great enemy of the clueless videographer (especially when working weekday evenings on a tight schedule), was on our side. We managed to get a lot of footage recorded and it never felt rushed or compromised. Some of the scenes we shot with Sofia were very powerful, dealing as they were with moments of tragedy/cruelty in her life, and to be there, holding the camera towards someone who is experienced at using their emotion to communicate is quite exhilarating. She managed to silence the room on more than one occasion, and goodness - I know this sounds silly - but at times I could physically feel the energy of her performance, like a force.

On the lighting side, having left my new lamp at home, the worklight proved it's mettle and powerfully lit the household spaces. I used a fast shutter speed to make up for abundance of light and I will be interested to see the results. To the eye, it was too much, but on camera, it looked great.

I also got to see more of Nigel Hine at work, who brought only small backpack but managed to pull a veritable studio out of it, reflectors, softbox lighting on a telescopic stand and a lovely Canon camera, before setting about photographing phenomenal promotional portrait pictures of Sofia and Marianne for their upcoming website, all on location at the house that will be the venue for Sofia's performance. Nigel was good, he was working in a non-ideal location that he wasn't able to scout beforehand, but the quality of the images was astounding.

Ah well, until next time!


(It's nice to be able to write something really positive for a change!)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Wailing and gnashing of teeth

THE LAMP part 2

Remember my clamp-lamp from the previous post? Well, I found one online and bought it. It's basically a heat lamp with a metal dome reflector for use in vivariums. Well my lamp arrived quickly from an online reptile house and yesterday I bought some filament bulbs for it so I could give the lamp a test run before tonight's shooting of Sofia and her show. The important thing to note here, and which shows a lack of foresight on my part, is that tungsten filament bulbs are being phased out in favour of energy saving bulbs. We're already at a stage where you cannot buy bulbs of a high wattage in the store (I had to settle for 60W). Good news for the planet, bad news for the no-budget film-maker.

Well, instead of a clean sharp light with bold shadows as this youtube video had showed me, I was treated to some of the ugliest light I've ever seen. Harsh patchy concentric rings of light all bunched together, like the headlight of a 70's car. It was awful. Thus commenced the wailing and gnashing of teeth. I spent some time trying to fix it. My first thought was that it was the super shiny dome that was causing these reflective rings, so I tried to remove it, only to find the particular lamp I had bought had an irremovable dome. Quick thinking Dee rushed to the bedroom and brought out a white shirt. We stretched the fabric over the dome and it diffused the light quite well, but not well enough. This light certainly isn't the holy grail of budget lighting I was hoping, in fact, until I make some kind of modification, it is beyond useless.

I'm beginning to think I should perhaps spray-paint the inside of the reflective dome with a matte white finish so the light is still reflected but it loses the harsh ringed reflections from the dome. Come to think of it, my dome is a lot more glossy than the dome in the video. I'm talking reflector dome here, and not my head, although let's be honest, my dome does get glossy.

I pulled out my old worklight to compare it to the horrible unusable light the lamp was giving off, and the worklight, despite giving off the light and heat of a small nuclear explosion, gave a far more consistent light. Why did I ever doubt you, worklight?

It's hard to escape the feeling that sometimes travelling on this journey is basically lurching from one disappointment to the next. Maybe I shouldn't have let myself get so fucking excited about a lamp, like it was the answer to all my problems.


Got a lot of stuff to take to work with me today, because I'm going straight from work to meet Sofia. On previous trips to work when I've had to come "equipped" I have injured my wrists carrying all this stuff across various trains and tubes, so today I have opted for the big dusty suitcase on wheels. Pulled it out from under the bed, vacuumed all the dust off it, and loaded up. I got my camera case, big tripod, worklight, worklight stand (the nuclear fucker will burn a hole in whatever it sits on otherwise), external microphone and leads. The camera case itself takes up 85% of the suitcase, the rest is wedged all around it. The tripod is massive, but it's wedged into a large outside pocket on the front of the case. Get in! Moving this around the streets of London is still a chore, but it's not the it complete bummer it has been previously. As I dragged the case along the uneven cobbled streets, the rattling of the wheels concerned me. I know that the camera is not meant to be subject to vibration, and I was having bad visions of the camera being shaken into tiny pieces inside it's foam casing. I'll keep you posted.

Ran out of time for breakfast this morning because I forgot the microphone and had to rush to find and pack it. Powered down through some mini cheddars and a fruit corner once I got to work. I'm feeling powerful. Let's see how long that lasts.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Catch-up time!

Been a bit of a while between updates.

The big news is that I have got a new project, filming a music video for Medway noiseniks Houdini. They are friends of Frau Pouch, the band I filmed live a while back at New Cross. We're just in the planning stages at the moment, but it's exciting, and this is a first for me - to be filming a video for a band that I wasn't already friends with. This is the litmus test, my first foray into commissioned work. They are a tight, furiously talented band and I urge you to see them live if you get the chance. They play Medway and London on a semi-regular basis. Catch them with Frau Pouch if the opportunity arises, for a double whammy of filth and noise.

Check them out here:


So the new video is in the pipeline and I really want to use this opportunity to elevate the visual quality of my videos (only time will tell if the opportunity is utilised) so I have ordered a new light to illuminate my video subjects. I want to keep it simple and inexpensive, although I do admit I did have a browse through some "proper" lights with tripods and dimmers and barn doors and all that fancy malarkey - however, money is too tight to mention, as the wise man once said (before contradicting himself by talking about money money) and it behooves me to seek a more frugal measure. I have written before about worklights, and how I utilised a worklight I had bought several years ago (to illuminate a night-time barbecue party) as a possible film-making solution. Some of the budget film-makers on the net don't rate worklights as a decent lighting tool and insist that proper lights are the only way to go, and while some of that may be equipment snobbery, there is actually a valid argument here. This excellent little tutorial video makes clear points and actually proposes an even cheaper solution than worklights which works a lot better.

The video suggests using reflector lamps as a point light, the kind you might use to illuminate and heat a reptile vivarium. It's a simple average glass bulb in a metal reflector dome, and it comes with a clamp so you can fix it to objects.

A far cheaper solution and a more controllable light than worklights, which can be a little overpowering as they are essentially halogen floodlights.

A top tip from the video is to use bulbs where the visible filament is small and straight, rather than curly, twisted or circular in shape. It means checking your bulb before you buy, but it means you get sharp crisp shadows (thanks to the straight filament) rather than the fuzzy, graded shadows that are caused by light rays being thrown every which way. I paid a little more to get a lamp that could take a bulb up to 250watts so I had the option to go bright. When the lamp arrives I'll let you know how it works! I'll be using it as a point light for the Houdini shoot and also next Monday, when I will be filming some footage of a theatre show performance for the Bacalao Theatre Company, a project I took on a little while ago.


Sofia, an old friend of mine and a talented performer, singer and actress is promoting her one-woman show, titled simply Sofia - The Show, an autobiographical piece about her childhood in Portugal and her life in London. What's interesting about the show is that it will take place in unusual spaces, such as people's homes which will be opened as public space. Sofia contacted me to help her and her director, Marianne, get a video sample of their work for their website, with the eventual aim of using the footage to show to possible backers to get funding for their new show. I filmed some footage of Sofia performing the show in a theatre space recently but time ran out on us, and I was really disappointed with the quality of the footage once I got it home. The room was dark and we had no extra lighting, so I had to use a wide open aperture, which when combined with the zoom meant that I had a really shallow depth of focus which made it hard to focus on Sofia as she moved about the stage. Sofia's vibrant red clothing - which looked fine on the viewfinder - came out bizarrely blocky and pixelated once I saw the footage enlarged. Another blow came in the form of the audio, which suffered from the loud air conditioning in the studio space. While human ears soon tuned out the drone, the microphone was not so kind. A little more experience (and equipment) and perhaps I could have taken steps to minimise this, but I learn hard lessons on every shoot I do.
Marianne and Sofia were both really great on the night and gave it their all, and I felt gutted that I couldn't give them something that reflected that.

I loved Sofia's work and both her and Marianne are really lovely genuine people, so I want to give them something that can benefit them. I hope I can salvage some footage of the performance and combine it with what we film on Monday. They've both worked so hard to organise all of this and I really want to help.

This may sound really obvious, but I am discovering that it's really not easy to do something well. It's difficult.


This project has not gone away, but has been put back a little. Not too much to talk about at this stage, things are still happening behind the scenes, and it all still feel a little vague and up in the air. I must admit, Mark from the Explorer's Collective has been prodding me for a meet-up, and I really should get together with him and talk about it. I've been keeping myself out of the loop because the guys involved have some stuff to work through - outside of the filming - and I don't want to muddy that. Time to catch up though.


This has also slipped into the background as I have been so busy lately... now I am worried that it will soon be too cold/dark/wet to be able to organise a large group of people for an outdoor filming session. I must contact Joe of Frau Pouch and have a chat.


Not video related, but I bought a bike last week, using my workplace cyclescheme. Should be picking it up in a few days. I'm unfit, overweight, and broke... so cycling should save me a lot of money on my exorbitant monthly train fares. Well, we'll just have to see how it goes!