Money Heist, Filmmaking Par Excellence

 

If you really want to learn film making, yes it is usually necessary to school yourself on the fundamentals. Really school yourself, learn the basics and get them down cold. I say ‘usually’ because there are a few geniuses that have by-passed that approach because they somehow gleaned it all from the next point I’m going to make.

The next thing is to study the work of real professionals who successfully applied those fundamentals and made classic or ground-breaking films. And even ‘cult underground’ ones. I’m sure you can think of a few,

But amongst that group are a smaller group of visionary artists who push things to a whole new level. That’s a very small group in my opinion.

In the book Run ‘N Gun Videography–The Lone Shooters Survival Guide, I made mention of a few who I felt were in that category at the time. Mentioned were ‘Breaking Bad’, ‘The Killing (Danish original–not the American version which is crap) and ‘The Bridge’ (a Swedish/Danish collaboration), all of which were crime dramas.

I confess, I’m a crime drama fan, so I’m going to have to add one more to the list.

It may be the best one of all.

La Case de Papel (literal translation: ‘House of paper’ and stupidly translated as a series title to ‘The Money Heist’) is a Netflix original Spanish crime drama. Strangely, I’d never really seen a Spanish film before. Looks like the Swedes, Danes and Spanish have all left Hollywood in the dust. (my theory: Hollywood got into politics while the rest of the world seems to be making better and better films)

Anyway, I was gobsmacked. (a British expression meaning what we might call ‘shit-faced’).

Wow!

I binged watched the whole series in two days.

Why is it so good?

Well, for you readers of Run ‘N Gun Videography, you’ll know what the primary point of that book was and how that primary point is the common denominator of all the fundamentals for any part of film making–MESSAGE.

This series is a fantastic example.

It’s cinema par excellence in all departments. ALL departments (camera, lighting, casting, acting, scripting, sets, props, music, editing….you name it). That’s always what makes a great film great. All departments acting in harmony to forward a message with the greatest possible emotional impact.

But all that techno babble aside–if you want to see the greatest heist film of all time, the most unexpected love story of all time, a great story and  a great thriller, with world class actors you never even heard of, that you will watch episode after episode until 3 am when you realise you’ve unavoidably fallen asleep, and with a fantastic ending–watch ‘The Money Heist’ on Netflix. And learn.

And by the way, I don’t say that smugly. These guys are way out of my league.

YouTube Channel Coming Soon… (but not what you might think)

 

 

Heads up! Tons of rock coming down!

A couple months ago I started thinking about starting a YouTube channel to see if (using what talents I still have) I could hit the Big Time. Or even close.

About a year before that I had another idea. You see, we have a house in southern France that we’re renovating. An old house. Older than the United States. Sounds exotic, I know, but honestly we wouldn’t have it if not for an inheritance. Since then another family member who fell in love with the area bought an old ruin and we’re renovating that too.

But mainly this area of southern France is amazing in so many ways. It’s not the ‘usual’ southern France (Provence, Nice, Cannes, Marseille) that you normally associate with that term. It’s about 100 miles west of that in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s France’s Best Kept Secret. (and that was going to be the name of a promotional series I was going to do for the benefit of the local area).

But then, one day, as I was standing in the ruin of the old Forge (1652) that I was working on, I got this new idea.

The Old Forge (1652) as purchased and before site clean-up. That’s a very productive, ancient grape vine growing across the face of the building.

After all, renovating old stone houses is extremely interesting. It takes an understanding and appreciation of the technologies that they were built with that made them last so long. (Perversely, the one sure way of expediting the demise of an old stone/oak frame building is with the introduction of modern building materials such as concrete).

Anyway, interesting as all that that might be, it wouldn’t sustain interest as the sole subject of a YouTube channel…and that’s when the penny dropped and when the two ideas became one: a channel that showed how easily an old ruin can be transformed into a dream house (and also showing you some houses around here and how unbelievably cheap they are) along with a tour of the region and the myriad of interesting things that happen here, particularly throughout the summer, and all the fascinating things and places that are around here. From Cathar castles perched impossibly on sheer stone mountain peaks,

Montsegur, not far from here and one of dozens in the region.

 

to white water rafting, wine tasting tours, street parties that take over villages throughout the summer, concerts, tattoo festivals, traditional festivals, quintessential French villages and towns, lakes, the Pyrenees, skiing, tax-free Andorra, the Mediterranean, Roman hot baths, flea markets that take over towns and villages all summer long (called ‘vide granier’, which means ’empty the attic’ and the treasures you can find there) –all within 90 miles. And so much more.

And to make it interesting, I’d take you around to all these places in a 2CV.

2CV (‘deux chevaux’ –meaning ‘two horses’)

 

The French have an absolute knack and creating the ugliest automative designs that are so adorable they become beloved classics. I don’t have one (but hope to eventually), but may be able to sweet talk a local English friend who has one into borrowing it now and then. It’s the ONLY way to tour old France.

In an earlier post I talked about the possibility of starting a ‘Run and Gun Videography Boot Camp’ down here this summer. If that happens and I manage to get this channel idea going, guess what we’ll be doing? –making videos for the YouTube channel and running around in a 2CV. What could be more fun?!

So there you have it. That’s the news.

The video posted here was done mainly for family members at the time, but with this YouTube channel in the back of my mind. It’s much longer than it would be for the channel idea, but the channel approach would definitely highlight some of the interesting bits of renovating (like the last minute of so of this video).

And like most of what I do, there would be an element of humour along with interesting information to share–except all in short, digestible videos (not 14 minute ones like the Sony camera reviews–which nevertheless were the most watched videos on the internet for those cameras ever and to this day. Thank you. I probably wouldn’t be announcing a possible new YouTube channel if it wasn’t for those videos and your support.

And by the way, my chance for success is based on hedging the bet that many of you will come aboard and help me share it with others when the time comes.

So, for a wee taste, here’s the LONG version of a day in the life of renovating a 380 year old stone house.

(I just noticed a typo in the date. This didn’t happen in the future–it was last month. My bad)

 

 

Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

I was doing a little maintenance on the Video Whisperer website and found an article I had written that somehow didn’t make it into the Run and Gun Videography book. The basic idea was written into the book in other ways, but in seeing this I felt it was quite well written and informative and worth sharing on the blog. Here it is:

Using Local Talent vs. Actors in Corporate Videos

Most of the business/corporate videos on this site were done with local talent–specifically, the actual people who work at the business, including owners, directors and regular staff.

Heavyweight Air Express was a medium-sized, but global company venturing into the video realm. They immediately thought to hire a professional actor to do their video. I advised against it, and whilst my opinion, when I told them why, they decided to go with their own talent.

In the case of Heavyweight Air Express, it wasn’t that they couldn’t afford to hire a pro for the job. In the case of smaller businesses, the additional cost may indeed be an important factor, and could even be the reason for not even considering having a video done due to perceived high cost.

The good news is that a high quality impactful business video is quite affordable, notwithstanding the fact that it should rapidly pay for itself.

As to pro actor versus local talent, here is my opinion and essentially what I told Heavyweight.

Firstly, think about those big companies who use professional talent on TV commercials. We know they’re actors and we know they’re paid and we know they’re reading script. The only reason that doesn’t bother us is that we ALREADY KNOW the company, its products and services, precisely because they’re already big.

Now let’s consider we were watching a commercial for a company we never heard of and that a professional actor was presenting. Well, we can tell at once that he or she is a professional actor, and we know that they’re being paid and reading script.  Suddenly those factors that didn’t bother us with the company we already know come into play in a different way with the company we never heard of. To a certain degree we suspect that is it just “hype”. Afterall, it’s a professional actor reading a script with perfect hair and all the right hand gestures.

Now let’s take that same company and use it’s actual president, CEO or owner.  First off, we can tell it’s not a polished pro. We can tell this is the real guy and that he’s putting his reputation on the line. So what he has to say–if it’s a subject we’re interested in–has a little more credibility. And we tend to give him a chance. We listen. We don’t just toss him off as a bit of marketing hype.

Secondly, people who work for the company and believe in it and its products and services are emotionally attached. They know what they’re talking about. They’ve dealt with the products, services and the customers who use them. And we can tell that too.

So the question becomes, how does one get a “regular guy” to come off well in front of the camera.

That’s pretty simple and is something a director is trained to do. But in terms of content (how we get them to say what we want them to say), here is where the Video Whisperer differs from most other video production companies. We don’t try to script it. “Remembering script” or “remembering what to say” is the downfall of any attempt to produce a marketing piece for a business, because people who are not trained actors have trouble with that sort of thing–and you can tell.

Instead we do it on an interview basis. We have an informal chat–interview if you like– with the camera rolling. Sure there are plenty of bobbles and mis-starts and all else that is part of normal human conversation. But as soon as we start talking about a subject that they KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT or have a particular EMOTIONAL CONTACT with, they suddenly start sounding quite natural and start coming off quite professionally–having completely forgotten about the camera.

Such interviews may last 20-40 minutes or more. And from that, the job of the editor is to distill from all the footage the essence of what we want to impart to the potential customer or client. That means there are a lot of “cuts” and that means often things are put together in a sequence differing from how it actually came off in the interview. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in the end, they provided the material necessary to being able to put together a marketing piece for the company just as if it had been scripted to begin with. And the best part is: Some of the things that come up in an interview one would never have thought to script!

Your Equipment Does Not Define You or Your Skills

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(originally posted on my Run and Gun Video Blog , but seems not too many people follow that one, so sharing it here)

 

I noticed my book cover on Amazon along with some of the related ones being promoted (and their covers) which reminded me at the same time of the many postings I’ve seen of people’s equipment. Some nice stuff and some Frankenstein monsters, but the underlying message (despite what was being said) was usually, ‘look at me’.

You know, the guy posts a shot of a whole load of expensive stuff with the caption: ‘off to do a blah-blah shoot’. Since surely nobody cares that he’s off to do a shoot, the obvious intended message is ‘look at all my cool stuff and be envious’.

Now look at the cover above.

That was very deliberately posed. Of course there was a humorous analogy with and throughout the book of the camera being a gun (so the Marlboro man hat and coat forwarded that), but note that the relatively small and unfancy camera is just dangling from the hand as if it were a 6 shooter and he’s off to shoot some vermin on the ranch that are stealing his chickens–or off to the OK Corral  to dispatch Billy the Kid for that matter.

The gun, the camera are tools, they are not the man.

They come out when it’s time to do the job and the pro doesn’t care what you think about them.

They’re taken care of, oiled and cleaned as any professional would treat his equipment, but except for a few of the narcissistic crazies, they don’t sleep with them, pose with them in the mirror or caress them fondly when no one is looking.

They’re just tools.

And look here: The gun that killed Billy the Kid didn’t even have a laser scope on it.

 

 

Sony PXW X70, Extreme Low Light Shooting

 

Sorry to be a bit repetitive. The video linked here is the same on from my last post. But, for an entirely different reason.

I’m posting it in response to an email I just received from Leo Vital.

Here’s the email and my response:

Dear Joe,
…Joe, could you please help me to find the proper settings for rather poorly lighted indoors, when you do not have any way to help it? Lately I was at a Young people gathering and they gathered in a gym size room, with walls painted brown and one was even pitch black. Well now way to light that up 🙂 This was an extreme, but it seems to me that whatever I do, I get rather disapointing outcome, even though while recording it doesnt seem to be that bad. I was trying also recording in the Auto mode, but it was also dissatisfactory. Could you please share with me how you fight the low lighting problem?
Thank you,
Leo
Dear Leo,
I’m going to give you a link to a video I just did a few days ago with the Duchess of Rutland who I’ve been doing a bunch of videos for. This one was ‘a day in the life of a duchess’, and as typical with her videos, they are unplanned. I just follow her with a camera with no idea where she’s going or what she’s going to say. In this one, she called me into some dark cellars. The only light (thankfully) was a work light on in an adjacent room where some workers were renovating some toilets. If you watch the footage carefully, you can see me at one point moving my own shadow out of the light path that was giving the only illumination in the otherwise unlit cellar. Even the shot where she went into a portion of the cellar with no light came out ok. And, to answer your question, I was on full intelligent auto. No choice. Even the auto focus on her held pretty good. So, naturally there was some noise in the dark shots as the camera tried to increase iso to give me an exposure. The answer to all of that is NEAT VIDEO. It’s the ONLY video noise reduction program that really works. The price you pay is worth it. Considering the alternative (no usable shots at all in this classic ‘run and gun’ situation), I still got a video product. It was almost as bad as having to shoot ‘a black cat in a coal mine at night’. There are some cameras (more expensive) that can do better than this, but for the price, your camera is pretty damn good. So, have a look:
As a note, I do have a nice little LED light I can slide into the shoe on the top of my camera, and it would have come in handy here. But, I had NO IDEA I was going to be going into the dungeons (and the shoe was occupied, at that moment, by a rifle mic). So, I kept the camera running and crossed my fingers.
The shots in question start at about the 36 second mark. In fact, ALL of those early morning shots early in the video had NEAT VIDEO processing.
(sorry for poor formatting–paragraphs all run together–and video not showing up properly–Wordpress seems to be having a bad night. Will try to fix tomorrow)

You Can’t Polish a Turd….

…But You Can Roll it in Glitter

 

Sorry, I heard that expression recently and just had to use it.

The point is: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

None of the videos shown here were turds really, but I did have some ‘issues’ to do with lighting. So this is really about color correcting and other image handling tools one can use.

As a note, the whole subject of ‘grading’ is popular today, particularly amongst an apparent group of ‘newbies’ who think it’s the next one-button solution to creating a ‘filmic look’. Nothing wrong with hoping for that, but it’s too often evident that they neglected to invest any time into basics such as ‘how to make a movie’. In short, I’m finding those forums a bit annoying. So to be clear, this isn’t really grading. It’s color correction with a couple extra tricks.

So let’s get practical, at least on the corporate video front. It’s simple: You make the guy or girl (or whatever other genders they have these days) look good. THAT’S ALL.

I’ll be covering two different videos I did recently.

On this first one I was having to solve a problem (I thought) of having forgotten my main LED interview lighting kit. Fortunately I had one back-up floor soft box with me and was forced to come up with something with the one light I had along with what was available in terms of room lighting. It was an interview with a Duchess on a tight schedule, so “oops, I forgot my lights…” as an excuse was out-of-the-question.

Needless to say, this was very naughty of me.  It’s just one of those things that can happen so you have no choice but to carry on as if nothing has happened at all and make it all come off anyway.

For comparison, here’s a still from an interview with the Duchess last year in the same location when I didn’t forget where my lighting kit was:

Standard key, backlight and fill and good subject to background contrast ratio. Controlled lighting.

 

Here’s what I managed more recently when  I only had one light to work with:

Camera Original

 

Here’s how I polished the turd:

FCPX Color Tools, Colour Finale Pro, CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask

 

Not as punchy as the first correctly lit sample, but better than the camera original.

First I color corrected it using the FCPX color tools and ColorFinale Pro (to bring up her blue blouse). This was before FCPX 10.4 which can do the same thing.

Then I used a ‘make-up’ program to soften her face (which I typically use on females of her age). Subtle, but nothing she or anyone else would notice. (Someone’s going to ask: I used PixelFilmStudios ‘Skin’ plugin. I don’t buy from them anymore, but I had it and it works well. –Buy from Motion VFX instead)

Finally I used one of my favourite tools, a vignette shape mask from CoreMelt which allows you to completely control the size, shape and density of a vignette. I use it often, even when I have lit the scene to the best of my ability. It allows me to create further contrast from subject to background when I am not able to achieve it satisfactorily on site myself. You can get it here FREE in CoreMelt’s ‘Slice X’ package. Go ahead and get it. You’ll love it. (There’s even a Photoshop style ‘Object Remover’ for video and a few other clever tools). But I guarantee you’ll find yourself using the vignette shape mask often.

Screen Shot: CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask

While that interview was done for several videos, here’s one of them that’s public now:

And here’s the next one:

P.S. (It turns out the LED flexlites were with me the whole time, tucked into an  outer pocket of my camera case for a little shoot I had done recently. (they take up very little room)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to modify your kit bags for a particular shoot, PUT THINGS BACK to where they usually are directly thereafter)

Turd Number Two

Ok, this one was less my fault.

I was at our house in France where we are good friends with our American neighbours Vinx and Jennifer. Vinx is a musician who has performed with many famous musicians from Isaac Hayes to Sting and is currently doing his own thing touring around the world. He’s a vocalist and percussionist. (Vinx.com)

Anyway, they got married there in Chalabre last year, part of which was a big concert to thank the town. It was called ‘Night of Serenades’ and featured 20 different acts, professional and amateur, all performing serenades to someone in the audience who was seated in a special chair in the front row and presented with a large bouquet of roses before their serenade. It was so popular that the town asked that it be done again next year (and every year thereafter).

If you’d like to see the short wedding video I did featuring Vinx’s serenade to Jennifer (which took place in the covered market in front of our house), you can watch it here.

So…this years’ Night of Serenades will be over 3 days preceded by a few more days of music related workshops. The venue has expanded to 3 stages across the town and includes serenaders performing from balconies around the town’s main ring road and lots more. It’s a big deal.

So they asked me to do a video to pitch to potential local sponsors.

All I had with me was a Sony RX10ii (a down-version of something like the Sony A7, but a gorgeous camera that happens to have the same sensor as my X70–which is why I bought it). I had no lighting or audio equipment.

Of course we’re sitting in front of a mix board, but Vinx was busy with a deadline and setting up a mic and audio feed was going to be a bit of a problem. Since this was a small distribution video for some local vineyards and other businesses in the seeking of sponsorship, we decided to do the best we could with a little omnidirectional mic Vinx uses on his GoPro cameras.

Original. Overhead fluorescent lighting.

 

Knowing that I would be using the vignette mask, I moved Jennifer forward so it would look ok with the background being a bit darker.

Similar to the last sample, I used a combination of FCPX’s shape mask and colour tools to correct colour and contrast followed by the vignette shape mask to create some depth to the background while spot lighting the main subject.

Colour Corrected with Vignette shape mask

 

That, I’m afraid, is an example of ‘run and gun’ Emergency Room procedure. Or, in the U.K., A&E (Accident and Emergency).

P.P.S.  Because I sort of stole the image, those are Unicorn Turds pictured at the top of the page. If you want to buy some, you can get them here: http://tetragrammatron.com/unicornturds.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

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