Q&A With “Heavy Objects” Director Fletcher Crossman

Fletcher Crossman

I had the pleasure of meeting phenomenally talented artist Fletcher Crossman back in 2009, when I photographed him in his backyard studio for a now-defunct magazine. At the time, Fletcher was focused on painting: his large-scale, figurative paintings – often incorporating text and political/philosophical overtones – made a big impression on me.

I found Fletcher himself to be a very affable British expatriate with a dry sense of humor, and the kind of vivid imagination rarely found in anyone over the age of three. We kept in touch after the shoot, and in 2010, we collaborated on a short documentary called “The Apple Thief.” The film followed Fletcher as he worked on a huge, controversial painting of a woman in a Christ-like crucifixion pose, while having challenging conversations with religious leaders about the role of women as defined by different faiths.

Fletcher caught the filmmaking bug, and started making green-screened music videos in his apartment, by himself, with a consumer camcorder and virtually no technical knowledge … And they’re ridiculously good. Oh, and did I mention that Fletcher is also an accomplished musician? Here he is, singing over a backing track he recorded himself, as quasi-Victorian chanteur “Berlin Dreggs.”

A few months ago, Fletcher told me that he was going to make a movie. Not the 8 to 12 minute short film that most aspiring auteurs modestly aim for, but a full-fledged theatrical feature. With no budget. And he was going to write, direct, edit and score it himself. I answered a few of his technical questions, and wished him luck. Several months of radio silence followed.

Only somewhat to my surprise, I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Fletcher telling me that the project was done. In typical Fletcher fashion, he had not only finished the film, he had done exactly what he set out to do, and done it all on the schedule he set for himself. And, he did it all while staying humble and being a genuinely nice guy to everyone around him.

Also, of course, it’s fantastic. It’s called “Heavy Objects,” and here’s the trailer.

Anyone who’s been around the filmmaking world for any amount of time knows what an accomplishment this is. For a first-time director to complete a project this ambitious, and to make it this beautiful, is truly spectacular.

If you’re burning with curiosity about exactly how he did it, you’re in the right place. Fletcher was kind enough to answer an indecent number of questions for me, so here, without further ado, is a very entertaining and illuminating Q&A with the one and only Fletcher Crossman.

“House Of Cards” Style Photo Tutorial

I had so much fun doing a self-portrait in the style of the “Gotham” promo photos that I decided to do another. This time, I’m using as a stylistic reference the extremely cool b&w portraits done for the Netflix hit series, “House Of Cards.”

house-of-cards-cast1

As with most promotional images, all the copyright info is for Netflix, so I have no idea who actually took these photos. I suspect that the individual portraits were shot on a Hasselblad, probably with some kind of large “beauty dish” lighting, and then stitched together in Photoshop.

But, that doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t do something similar, in whatever space, and with whatever equipment we have! Here are a few of the shots I came up with for myself.

House Of Cards style lighting

Without further ado, here’s my video tutorial on “House Of Cards” style photo lighting.

“Gotham”-Style Photo Tutorial

Gotham-Wallpaper

I’m a big fan of the new “Gotham” TV show. I also like the promo images that were done for each of the main characters. I couldn’t find any information online about who took the images,or how they were done, so I decided to figure out how to do something similar myself.

alex-gotham-web

Waveform 101

Back in the early days of video, tehcnicians relied on two main instruments: the waveform and the vectorscope. Even though we now have fancy flat-panel monitors, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with these venerable tools – especially the Waveform.

In Premiere Pro, you can switch to the Waveform view by clicking on the little wrench icon under the program window.

Ideally, you want a full range of video signal all the way from bright white (100 IRE) to dark black (0 IRE). If your signal is all smushed up in the middle like this, it’s going to look muddy and unattractive.

Goodwill Christmas TV

I was recently hired by the good folks as The Brandon Agency to shoot, direct & edit a series of spots they’d written for Goodwill Industries. In time for the season, here’s the Christmas spot.

Basic Audio Processing in Adobe Audition

A friend of mine recently edited his first TV commercial, and got this note from the TV station:

I wanted to let you know about the latest spots I just put in the system. The quality, especially of the audio, is quite bad.
The audio levels swing wildly from quiet to loud throughout, making the quieter parts hard to hear because I have to set the levels for the louder sections. Some of the audio also sounds like it was recorded a bit hot and distorts a bit. Also, some of the voiceover and stand ups audio only comes out of the left audio channel rather than both.

Ouch! Fortunately, aside from the audio that was recorded “a bit hot” and distorted, all of this can easily be fixed. Audio purists may be horrified by my approach, but it’s quick and effective.

Is Tamron’s 17-50mm f/2.8 The Perfect Blackmagic Lens?

Ever since the original Canon 5D MkII opened up the world of accessible large-sensor video, it’s been hard to stomach the reduction in field of view that a cropped sensor demands. I absolutely love the image quality that my Blackmagic Production Camera captures, but the 1.7x crop factor made it a challenge to keep working with the same lenses that I used with my 5D2.

For example, my go-to lens for wide-angle handheld work with the 5D2 has always been the Canon 20mm f/2.8, and my favorite general-purpose lens is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8. But neither of those lovely pieces of glass work the same way on the BMPC, because of the crop factor.

After investing in a couple of new lenses (plus digging an old 8mm Peleng out of my closet), I set out to do a side-by-side comparison to determine what lenses I can count on, and which I should leave in the bag.

First up was the Peleng 8mm. I bought this Soviet-era marvel years ago to use with a Krasnogorsk 16mm film camera. I had used it for a couple of fisheye shots on my Canon 5D, but I’ve really never had much use for it.

Here’s what it looked like. For each lens, I’m showing a scaled-to-fit image and a 100% crop from the ProRes HQ 4K video file.

8mm 01

8mm 02

While the ultra-wide angle is impressive, and the vignetting could be dealt with, the lack of clarity in the image would be hard to justify for any serious production.

Getting Decent Audio Out Of The Blackmagic 4K Production Camera

bmpc audio meters

Last week, Blackmagic announced that their v1.9 firmware update for the 4K Production Camera would include audio meters. This was met with great rejoicing by camera purchasers who have been struggling with the amazingly bad audio functionality of this otherwise exemplary device.

Let me preface what follows by mentioning that I have used a lot of cameras and audio equipment over the last 20 years, and the Blackmagic Production Camera is by far the absolute worst. Not only are the onboard preamps noisier than the worst DSLR – meaning that using anything more than 10% gain will result in audio so full of hiss that is almost totally unusable – but the input tolerance seems to have been calibrated for some kind of alien technology. Every type of signal I fed into it was either clipped or inaudible – and often both!

Armed with the new audio meters, I resolved to test the BMPC’s finicky sound circuits more systematically.

“Media-Proof Kids”

As digital content creators, sometimes we come face to face with Pogo the Possum’s famous observation, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” In a cultural landscape drowning in endless advertisements, hypnotic entertainment, and overwhelming information, are we making the world better or worse?

As a parent, I felt forced to ask myself, “How can I use what I know to help my children defend themselves against manipulative media?”

About a year ago, I started researching this topic. Today, I am very proud to introduce my new eBook, “Media-Proof Kids: A Guide For Parents.”

Quick Tip: Title-Safe/Action-Safe Guides in Premiere Pro

I can never remember how to turn these guides on, so I’m posting this as much for my own benefit as for yours. In the upper-right of the program monitor in Premiere, there’s a fly-out menu that allows you to turn on title-safe/action-safe guides, as well as all the other monitoring options.

title safe premiere