From Photography to Filmmaker (Rebranding to FigTree Cinemas)

     For a while, I wanted to do both photography and filmmaking. It was fun doing both! They each have their own set challenges and upsides. Photography being more conducive to freezing moments and filmmaking for telling a story within a certain timeframe. However, in the market where I am, it became pretty obvious which path to take.

     In Murrieta, the market I'm in, there are photographers everywhere. However, there aren't many filmmakers. This always puzzled me because it seemed so obvious. Why hasn't anyone jumped on this market? The only reason I could think of is that it's much MUCH harder to tell a story with video than it is with photographs. With that sentence, I can see all the angry facial expressions on your photographer faces. Let me explain.

Lights! Camera! Action!

     A photograph doesn't require much of a time investment for a viewer. One can see hundreds of images in an hour. Yes, while you are competing for everyone's attention on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and for those who still use it Flickr, at least they will look at your image. People who watch videos on the other hand have a different mentality. They want to feel that the previous 5 minutes they spent watching the film were worth it. That is where the skill of being a visual storyteller comes in. One has to know the psychology of each movement of the camera & what it means for the final image. That is why I decided to stick with filmmaking. It's more of a challenge and pushes my creativity to new heights. And besides, less people are willing to do it. I believe that is what's known as a Win-Win.

     As you may have noticed, the website & logo looks different. That is because I have rebranded Tem.Teen Studios to FigTree Cinemas! There were many reasons, but the biggest one was spelled out earlier. I want to specialize in video more than I do photos. To clarify, photography will always be a service I offer. However, given the choice, I'd prefer to take video jobs & refer people to photographers like Cy Rathbun & Greg Vogel, two of the best photographers in the valley.

     Wow! It's been a while since I've updated this blog! Now that work has subsided temporarily, I'll be sure to post more. Thanks for the patience!

Elias Shoes Grand Opening

NOTICE: This is an old article I forgot to post back in October of 2014. Some information might be irrelevant or outdated.

     Sonny and Cher prophetically said these famous words, "A cowboy's work is never done." And that certainly is the case when it comes to multimedia and marketing. Just three weeks ago I had to film the grand opening of Elias Shoes, an amazing shoe store in Murrieta... And with my name on it too!

     This video was a real challenge for me. Not only was it the first (official) promotional video I have made, but I was using gear I wasn't familiar with, and to top it off I used a software I didn't know how to use. Why so many challenges? Sit tight and I'll explain.

     For this, I shot with two cameras. A Canon 60D for the video, and my good old workhorse Canon T1i for the time-lapse portion. The lenses I used were the Sigma 17-55mm f/2.8 for video, and the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 for the time-lapse. For sticks I was using my Manfrotto 294 Kit, and a Manfrotto monopod for video stabilization, a RØDE VideoMic for Audio, a Cowboy Studio arm, and the F&V Z96 Daylight Balanced Light for some on camera fill light.

     This was the first time I had used the 60D on a professional shoot. That was a problem for me because all the buttons were in different places to the T1i, the camera I'm used to. I actually kept hitting the Trash button when I wanted to change the Display preferences. This is why when you're on set, you need to be able to identify problems and fix them fast. It's a ridiculously important trait and I cannot stress it enough. Be it in the studio photographing a product, a videographer shooting a short film, or a sound mixer mixing a song, you need to be able to adapt quickly.

     After I got to know the gear well enough, I was then able to capture the day. All in all, I was just going around and shooting what I felt I needed. Now I wasn't shooting hap-hazardly. I had a shot list in my head and knew what I wanted to be in the final cut of the video. Again another trait of a run-&-gun filmmaker (one I'm still learning myself). Knowing when and where to be and knowing what and when to shoot is one of the most important skills you can learn. All in all... I only gathered about 30 minutes of footage (not including time-lapse), but knowing I was going to edit it down to three minutes, I knew it was enough.

     The editing software I used this time is Premiere Pro CC. Yes, Premiere Pro. I felt I was getting comfortable with FCPX and figured it was time to challenge myself. And let me tell you... it was a challenge. The first thing I wasn't used to, was the non-magnetic timeline. I constantly had to shift the clips from one place to another to keep the sequence from getting out of sync. But in the end, worked out and I now know how to use two different pieces of software.

     That's my experience on shooting the Elias Shoes video. Was it a challenge? Yup. Would I do it again? Absolutely! Be sure to check back next week with a brand new post. Until then, thank you and have a great day!

Using What I Have Part 1: Magic Lantern

     As technology advances, we get googly eyed over the newer and enhanced capabilities of cameras, computers etc. And unfortunately, we forget that the gear we already own could produce unbelievable results. So for the next few posts, I'm going to only use gear that I already have to create short films. First up, the Canon T1i w/ Magic Lantern RAW 2.0.

     Lately I have been looking into purchasing a used 60D for my video work. But thanks to modern programming (e.g: Magic Lantern), Cameras like my ancient T1i can shoot extremely high quality DNG (or RAW) video. But to be honest, I didn't know my camera was capable of loading that specific module. I assumed because it was a very old/beginner style camera, it couldn't handle the amount of data DNG files take up. I'm glad I was wrong.

     Shooting of this vignette was extremely simple. I just took my Ti1 & 40mm Pancake w/ me to lunch with my family and shot. The following photos are my settings in Magic Lantern:

I set up MyMenu w/ shortcuts to access these items without hunting for them.

I set up MyMenu w/ shortcuts to access these items without hunting for them.

This is the resolution I was shooting at. To make it 1280 x 720, I had to stretch it vertically 167% in post.

This is the resolution I was shooting at. To make it 1280 x 720, I had to stretch it vertically 167% in post.

This is where I control the FPS of the finished video. I have it set to the standard 23.976ps.

This is where I control the FPS of the finished video. I have it set to the standard 23.976ps.

     After I shot the footage, I needed a way to view it. Fortunately, I came across a post by Cinetic Studios about how to view/edit MLV RAW files. If you have the time, I highly recommend reading it if you use Magic Lantern RAW.

     Once I knew which clips I wanted, I exported as DNG files. One of the reasons I did this instead of ProRes 4444 files is that it's much easier for me to grade DNG files than ProRes 4444. I'm not a colorist, but I am a photographer who deals with RAW files (Canon .CR2), and this is very similar to that.

Screenshot of me grading another sequence soon to come.

Screenshot of me grading another sequence soon to come.

     I finished grading, then I exported the photos as JPEG's and imported them to FCPX. After combining each individual image sequence into a compound clip, I just cut it like I would a normal sequence. And there you have it! A vignette shot on a camera that can't even shoot video.

     Next week I'll be showing how to get cinematic visuals from an iPhone 4S, and my method for editing. Hint: I didn't import any footage into the computer. Until then, take care!

My Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+ (last updated 5/10/2015)

     Emulating the style of the independent filmmaking god himself (aka: Philip Bloom), I decided to make an Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+. As usual, please read my ethics statement.


     Before I say anything, I would like to point out that I am not an audio expert. I've picked up some tricks/techniques while working with cinema and video over the past three years, but I primarily work with the visual aspect of filmmaking. That being said, I am no stranger to how audio editing works and how it impacts a film. If a film has good audio and horrible visuals, it's sometimes forgivable. But if the reverse happens, it makes the film unwatchable. For Portrait of a Linguist, I knew that I needed solid audio. Given my limited access to resources at the time, I only had my iPhone 4S with me to record audio. But let me tell you, the audio that comes off that thing is SO much better than the in-camera audio from my T1i (which wasn't designed to record decent video in the first place).

The interview audio was recorded on my iPhone 4S and then synced with the scratch track from the camera.

3/23/2015 Tech Specs

Product photo of the NTG4+

Product photo of the NTG4+

     After getting that disclaimer out of the way, I can now talk about the RØDE NTG-4+. For a long time, I've wanted to purchase a proper shotgun mic and use it on my films. But I've always resorted to borrowing mic's like the RØDE VideoMic. While it's a great mic, it's not as expandable as I would like for it to be (i.e: you can't connect it to a sound board without converting the 3.5mm jack to XLR, which causes electrical interference). With the XLR's, I can use this with my Canon T1i (with an adapter), and when I upgrade to a proper video camera (C100 Mk2 or similar), I can still use the NTG-4+.

     As far as Tech Spec's go, here's what I found on B&H:

  • Directional Pattern: Super-cardioid (Similar to a reverse heart shape)
  • Frequency Range: 20 to 20,000 Hz (selectable HPF at 75 Hz)
  • Sensitivity: -32 dB re 1V/Pa (25 mV at 94 dB SPL) ± 2 dB at 1,000 Hz
  • Output Impedance: 200 ohm
  • Equivalent Noise: 16 dBA SPL (per IEC651)
  • Maximum Output: 7 dBu (at 1 kHz, 1% THD into 1 kOhm)

  • Dynamic Range: 119 dB (per IEC651)

  • Maximum SPL: 135 dB

  • Signal to Noise Ratio: 78 dB SPL (per IEC651)

  • Battery: 150 hours of phantom power on a 2-hour charge

  • Output Connection: 3-pin XLR, balanced output between Pin 2 (+), Pin 3 (-) and Pin 1 (ground)

  • Dimensions: 0.87 x 10.94" (22.00 x 278.00 mm)

  • Weight: 6.21 oz (176.00 g)

     Hope that means something to you audiophiles out there. For me, this translates into: Highly directional, reliable, self-powered audio source. Hope my interpretation is accurate and doesn't upset any professional sound recorders.

Screen shot of RØDE NTG-4+ on B&H Photo's site.

Screen shot of RØDE NTG-4+ on B&H Photo's site.

     This is just the tech spec's review and doesn't mean squat until I get to actually use the NTG-4+. Check back on this post in a few days to see my unboxing/initial thoughts on this microphone. Until then, peace out.

3/24/2015 Initial Thoughts

     Nothing is as exciting as getting a new piece of gear arrive in the mail. And today at 11:22 AM, the UPS guy dropped off this little beauty:

     The RØDE NTG-4+. Right off the bat I 'm going to say that this thing is built like a brick wall. I would imagine that if this thing gets dropped (déjà vu), it'll take the hit. After playing around with it for an hour, I can honestly say I fell in love with this mic. The sound quality right off the bat is really clear and is clean even when I pull the audio files up from -30dB to -12dB.

3/30/2015 Sample Files

4/07/2015 Song Recording

     Knowing that I wouldn't be able to take full advantage of the microphone without using a proper external recorder, I picked up a Zoom H4N Audio Recorder and began using it with the NTG-4+. Once I had this setup, I got two of my friends together and we recorded a song. 

My man Harley while we're recording  The Soundmaker  by  Rodrigo y Gabriella

My man Harley while we're recording The Soundmaker by Rodrigo y Gabriella

     The song isn't done at this point, however while I'm editing the tracks I can certainly say this: It sounds incredible. We were recording outside our local library and unknown to us, it was cleaning day for the park across the street. There were lawnmowers mowing, weed-whackers going, leaf blowers blowing etc. Suffice it to say... it was loud. But for the most part, the NTG-4+ didn't even pick it up. This microphone is so directional that it blocked out the noise that wasn't directly in front of it. This, along with the Zoom H4N's ability to record in 24bit/48kHz allowed me to record incredibly clean audio and make editing a piece of cake.

     Three weeks in to my using the RØDE NTG-4+ and I'm very pleased with the results so far. Check back next week when I go over how it sounds in a Podcasting situation. Take care everyone!

4/15/2015 Podcast Recording

     After getting the song somewhat done, I was ready to test how the NTG-4+ handles Podcasting. And to be honest, this one kind of surprised me...

Karl & I recording the podcast into the two mic's

Karl & I recording the podcast into the two mic's

     As you can see in the photo above, I'm using the NTG-4+ to record my voice into, while Karl is talking directly into the H4N. Both of our levels were set to around +75, and I was recording to 24bit/48kHz WAV files (my go-to settings). You can listen to the podcast below:

     After listening to the finished podcast, I noticed that my audio (using the NTG-4+) didn't sound as well as Karl's audio (using the built-in H4N mic). But after playing around with the audio files in Logic, I realized something interesting. Since the NTG-4+ is a directional mic, you can hear my voice, but not Karl's through my mic. However, the H4N's mic isn't directional. Meaning you can hear both of our voices through that one mic. This makes my track have more of an echo, while leaving Karl's audio sounding MUCH better. So essentially... My mic is making Karl sound better. I have to be honest, I was not expecting that. 

     Now almost five weeks in to my review, and I have to say I feel ready to close the end. Not yet though! I have one more update I want to do on this mic before I officially seal it. Check back in a week to see the final installment of My Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+.

5/10/2015 Final Thoughts

    As far as the song goes, I'm not going to share it just yet. I want to refine my sound editing skills before I share that out to the world. But as far as the podcast goes, things have been working out really well. I talked to RØDE and figured out an ideal way to record the podcast without our voices interfering with each other's tracks. You can listen to episode 2 down below:

     It has been nearly two months since I started this review of the RØDE NTG-4+. And I have to say, it's incredible. In every scenario I've used it in, it has not only surprised me, but blew other mic's I've used at this point out of the water. From the podcasting, to the song recording, to just general use, the RØDE NTG-4+ excelled with flying colors. Would I recommend it? Absolutely!

     And with that, I am going to conclude my Evolving Review of the RØDE NTG-4+. Check back next week for a more timely update on what's going on with Tem.Teen Studios. Until then, ¡Adios!