Video Production Uses Both Sides of the Brain

~ Frank Blackwell
I was recently offered the role of Director of Photography on a 20-minute horror short film. It took me exactly 2 seconds to accept that offer, and I am now the DP on Hide/Seek, a new film that was written, and will be directed by, Matt Newton. Matt is the founder of MN Acting Studio in NYC, NY and Greenwich, CT. The film will be shot and produced in Guilford, CT. Filming will take place in April 2016.

Matt recently coached Aziz Ansari on the hit Netflix show “Masters of None,” and has been the on-set coach for the hit CBS show “Blue Bloods” for the last 3 seasons.   He is also the on-set coach for the hit film “# Horror,” starring Chloe Sevigny and Timothy Hutton.

Matt’s own acting credits include “Strangers with Candy” (1999), “Dahmer” (2002), “Poster Boy” (2004) as well as guest appearances on more than a dozen television shows and tv commercials.

So why does being a DP require that both sides of the brain function equally well?

Let me begin by showing some footage I took during a drone test on March 1, 2016. You can see some actual footage from the drone below in a second video too. The Drone operator is John Drakos.

Being a DP draws equally from all aspects of creativity and technical control. Visual thinking, …mixed with technical expertise, …blended with an ability to change direction as swiftly as the weather changes in Connecticut; these are all hallmarks of being a successful Director of Photography on any film.

From frame rate, to shutter speed, from waveform to histogram, from close-up to wide shot and to establishing a scene – a DP needs to blend technical expertise with the emotion and feel of every clip.

One side of the human brain sees color, tone, depth of field, point of focus, and camera movement. Simultaneously, the other side of the brain decides exactly how all that comes together from a technical and functional point of view for the sole purpose of advancing the story line.

This blog will be about the steps in that process and as time allows along the way, I will post those steps as they happen, trying to include you in my thought process as we proceed.

In this first post, as I gather my thoughts, assemble my equipment lists, read and re-read the script, and study the camera shot list schedule, it’s worth mentioning a conversation I had a while back when John Drakos stopped by my studio to introduce himself and speak with me about video classes.

John wanted to know how our classes might benefit his interest in starting a drone-based filming business. John is a licensed aircraft pilot and drone operator. I was impressed with his credentials and level of expertise. As I began considering how I would film Hide/Seek, I remembered that conversation with John and invited him to work with me to do some test shots with his drone to see how well drone footage might work to tell our story.

As a DP on any film, there are always choices to be made about equipment. Those choices bring benefits and consequences that must be weighted and evaluated against cost, time, quality, visual tone, and outcome.

Using a drone is something I might not have considered a year ago but for this film, this location and the type of feel Matt Newton has written into the script, there is almost certainly a cost-effective benefit tied to adding in some aerial footage. Here is some footage from yesterday. This footage is straight from the drone. It has no audio and very little color correction. It is a good example of what I usually use as test footage. Using straight untreated footage saves time while still giving a good indication of what I can expect from finished footage. In this video I am simply looking for control of the aircraft camera and a means for developing ideas for interesting ways to capture a scene. In the right light, with a slow enough approach from the air, the drone promises to add an element of suspense and voyeurism to the movie.

As I work to prepare for filming; as we discuss technical aspects of production such as frame rate, lens selection, audio gear, lighting, scripting, and all other aspects – both technical and aesthetic, I will try to include much of what takes place from the perspective of my role as Director of Photography here within this blog. I will share what I think to be of interest to aspiring and established photographers, film makers, directors and producers.

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Thanks for following my blog.

~ Frank Blackwell


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