Saturday, October 25, 2014

Readymade at New Urbanism Film Festival

My short documentary The Readymade on the Corner will screen at the New Urbanism Film Festival in Los Angeles on Saturday, November 8 at 3 p.m. as part of the Street Art Short Films program.

You can get tickets here:

Camera Story to Screen at 100 Words Film Festival

My short film Camera Story: DC215 will screen at the 100 Words Film Festival in Charlotte, NC on Saturday, November 22, 2014.

You can get tickets here: 

The final film, in my case, is very short -- but I think it tells a story. The process involved writing a script exactly 100 words in length, then filming the piece. That's quite an interesting challenge!

Last Book Read: The Five Cs of Cinematography

Previously, I reviewed Gustavo Mercado's The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition and complained about two problems:
  • It disagreed, using a tone of certainty, with standard definitions of shots in the language of cinema.
  • It overemphasized "breaking the rules" to the point that it became vague.
Well, if that book stepped out of agreed-upon shot definitions ... where exactly did those definitions come from? One key source in beginning cinematography courses has been, for a very long time, the text:

Okay, great. But ... is that book good, or just omnipresent?
I'm glad you asked.

Who is it for?
Joseph V. Mascelli's book has long been a seemingly simple guide to practical cinematography. It focused on an approach breaking down the art into five components:
  • Camera Angles
  • Continuity
  • Cutting
  • Close-Ups
  • Composition
Well ... good. Anything that takes the study of a field often presented as magically complex and makes clear the elements we can actually get a handle on is a good thing. So this is for beginning cinematographers or anyone reviewing the building blocks of the field to develop a deeper understanding.

But ... ?

My issue with it has always been that the "Cs" would be better if restated as questions. For example, let's apply some "Ws" to the issue:
  • What are the camera angles commonly used in filmmaking?
  • What determines if one shot will edit well to another shot in continuity editing?
  • What factors determine how a shot can be used in cutting a series of shots?
  • Why, practically, is filming close-ups different from more general shooting?
  • What factors in shot composition have an impact on the edit and the film?
This, to me, would remove the book's major problem: Clutter. There's a lot of material seemingly under an organizing factor ... but not really addressed with enough Clarity.

What does it cover?
The book addresses examples of those Five Cs, using a dollop of theory but mainly demonstrating a practical approach. It gets right into "types of camera angles" and "filming techniques" as, essentially, lists with examples.

How well does it work?
The "this is how we do it" approach seems to lack the balance of an effective "because doing it this other way leads to this problem..." element that seems natural here. In other words, it's a guide, but would be stronger with a series of warning callouts presented in a clearer way.

As in: shoot a Medium Shot this way, don't shoot it this way because X, Y, Z.

There are, in fact, many "don'ts" listed --
"Don't show a player looking off-screen, then cut to what he sees -- and pan the camera around and end up on the player. This will jar the audience, because a person cannot see himself as he looks about! What starts off as a point-of-view shot becomes a straight objective shot, as soon as the player is included."
And that's good advice, right? But read it carefully and the tonal issue of the book becomes clear: it suffers very much from the common problem experts experience when they begin to teach. Instead of being an expert on what material a student / learner needs, and then comprehending the best system to deliver that material, the book presents material (good material!) without a real understanding of the best way we will learn that material.

Think of the difference between "Here's the local building code ..." [ drops book on desk ]


"We'll show you how to make a chair first ... and then how those techniques are applied to a shed ... and then the additional skills needed for a barn ... and in volume 2 we'll get to house framing."

Okay ... but should I read it?
That's a tricky question. I think the best way to answer it is to take a close look at the work of the book's author. I mean, if he's a great cinematographer, it will probably be a great book ... right?

So, what did Joseph V. Mascelli shoot? Could I see any of it on Netflix?

Well, you can probably find:

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?

You can see the trailer for that here:

Yes. And a few other really, really odd films. I mean ... puzzlingly odd.

Read it in sequence with related books and form a bigger picture you can apply to your own practice.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hanging Downtown (Full Movie)

Hanging Downtown from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

Here, finally, is the full 15-minute film "Hanging Downtown."

Please, after you watch it, go to:

and sign in (there are several options, including using FaceBook)

and give it an honest rating.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Last Book Read: The Filmmaker's Eye

Last book read:

Gustavo Mercado's The Filmmaker's Eye: Learning (and Breaking) the Rules of Cinematic Composition.

Who is it for?
Mercado's book can be used in a class introducing the basics of cinematography or filmmaking, but can work as a refresher for more advanced practitioners of the craft.

What does it cover?
The approach here is to break down the "standard shots" used in filmmaking, considering both the technical and aesthetic concepts behind the standard approach. Then, as counterpoint, examples of breaking these standard rules effectively are given and discussed. So, a typical chapter is titled "Medium Close Up."

How well does it work?
I recommend this book, but I think two problems interfere with how effective it can be in a classroom or for personal study. If the reader is informed of those two issues, it is well worth the read.

Two problems?
The first problem: Mercado is incorrect in the definition of certain shots, and a student comparing this to more standardized practice will be confused. (I find this really puzzling myself, and pulled out several cinematography textbooks for comparison.) The book's definition of a "Close Up" is generally considered a version of an "Extreme Close Up" in general cinematography textbooks, and this sets up an examination of each shot that is very closed (and a bit too narrow) in definition.

As an example, if we study this book's example of a "Medium Close Up" we read:

"The size of the subject in this medium close up requires that the top of the head is cropped to give him the proper amount of headroom."

Well, that's a bit confusing -- we crop into the head to give headroom?

More importantly, however, is that this proposed definition:
  • the top of the frame cropped into the subject's head
  • the bottom of the frame is shown at the shirt pocket of the subject

is often considered a Close Up, and many directors would consider a looser framing as a workable "Medium Close Up." For example, if you turn on a typical TV news program, you might see:
  • the top of the frame just above the subject's head
  • the bottom of the frame at the shirt pocket

Mercado doesn't address this very common news/documentary framing -- it doesn't exist in the book, implying it wouldn't be acceptable. I would be happier with a more open approach -- obviously "standard" shots expand out into variations, and that's fine. So Mercado's implied "here's the right way" becomes an issue. If this is an issue that can be discussed in a class (or in one's personal reading of the book) that will be fine. But it's written as if the shot examined in the book is a closed truth, rather than one example of many possibilities.

The second problem, in my view, is that book puts so much energy into the "breaking the rules" aspect of the discussion ... yet some of the examples are nearly identical to the shots discussed as standard. The framing of the "breaking the rules" shot under "Medium Close Up" is essentially identical to the main shot presented.

So ... what does Mercado say makes it "break the rules"? That it is used "by itself" rather than in a progression of shots toward a Close Up. This is a strange interpretation, and really focuses on editing choices rather than cinematography.

But ... you like it?
Yes, I think this is a good book, and worth the space on a filmmaker / film student's bookshelf. Take the definitions with a grain of salt (and learn from where you personally disagree, or from examples that differ). It places a system of shots at the heart of the study of cinematography, and serves as a good introduction to a key concept.

Read it in sequence with related books and form a bigger picture you can apply to your own practice.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Timelapse Plus Tiltdown

This was a test shoot to learn how to create a timelapse shot with a camera tilt down at the beginning.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Timelapse Experiment

Cloudlapse from Ted Fisher on Vimeo.

I wanted to create a timelapse that also slowly zoomed out.

So, here's how I did it:

  1. I shot stills at an interval of 2 seconds apart.  I shot for about 15 minutes.
  2. These were then dropped into a 1080/30p sequence in Adobe Premiere. Each still became one frame in the video.
  3. Since each frame was 2 seconds apart, one minute of shooting creates 30 frames or about 1 second of video. So - 1 minute of filming equals one second of timelapse video.
  4. This sequence was exported as a QuickTime movie at 1920 by 1080, 30 frames per second.
  5. The exported clip was imported back into Premiere and dropped into a 720p/30 sequence.
  6. By using keyframes to control "scale" I was able to start with the clip at 100% scale -- larger than the 1280 by 720 frame of the video, and therefore "zoomed in" -- and then set a keyframe at 67% scale ("zoomed out"). This keyframed change in scale results in the feeling of zooming out.