Crew of One: Ski-Ter Jones

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Continuing with our series of interviews with interesting people doing interesting things, I’m very pleased to bring you this conversation with Hollywood veteran Ski-ter Jones. Ski-ter is a professional actor, filmmaker, and now author. His new book “You Booked It!” is a treasure-trove of wisdom for aspiring commercial actors, based on Ski-ter’s personal experience in over 100 TV commercials.

I really enjoyed this interview, because Ski-ter is a guy who puts a lot of passion into anything he does, and succeeds because of it. Anyone considering a career (of any kind) in La-La Land will find this particularly interesting.

Food Photography Tips

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Food is one of my favorite subjects to photograph. Not only is it an enjoyable challenge, but I usually get to eat it after I’m finished!

I’ve done a fair bit of food photography, and refined my system down to a few basic elements that work well for me. Here’s how I do it.


Lighting

My favorite lighting setup for food is a super-soft, high backlight. This is what it looks like. A single strobe, shooting through a small umbrella, and then softened further by the diffusion panel from a 6-in-1 reflector kit.

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JCVD Commercial Parodied

A few weeks ago, the director of the Volvo commercial featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme was kind enough to share some of the behind-the-scenes information with us. I don’t have any BTS on this parody production, but it’s so well done, I wanted to share it.

Walking With A Broken Leg

Sometimes, we in the creative fields get so wrapped up in technique that we forget how profoundly the prevalence of video technology has allowed ideas to spread.

As an example, look at this video. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook this morning. She wrote, “My brother was having a difficult time getting around with a broken leg in Brooklyn. He needed an alternative to crutches.”

I watched this, and my jaw dropped. Strapping a home-made prosthetic leg to your knee and walking around. Now that this guy has done it, people all over the globe are going to be doing it. A brilliant idea, captured with a cel phone video camera, and shared with the world.

A Better Source For Creative Fuel

It is a bit of a clichĂ© that creative people are coffee addicts. Unlike 9-to-5 jobs (do those even exist anymore?), the projects undertaken by artists, designers, musicians, filmmakers and photographers tend to translate into late nights and short weekends. And, it’s true … More often than not, this means coffee. Lots of it.

Sadly, this need for coffee generally means a trip to Starbucks. I say “sadly,” because Starbucks coffee isn’t very good, yet it is so ubiquitous that people have learned to like it. In the same way that college kids today think that music laden with MP3 compression sounds better than the same music without compression artifacts, too many people think that Starbucks coffee is what coffee should taste like.

Also, I’m the kind of person who always roots for the little guy. Starbucks, whatever its good qualities may be (and, aside from the free wi-fi, I have trouble thinking of any), is The Man when it comes to the coffee industry.

No Regrets About Switching From Final Cut To Premiere Pro

I recently received this question:

I hear Premiere is great, but what is the learning curve on that program? Besides accepting more formats, is there any other perk Premiere has over FCP?

Before I answer this question, let me mention that I was a DEDICATED Final Cut Pro user for over a decade. From 2000 to 2010, I bought all the updates, defended FCP against fans of other editing platforms, and used it for many hours per week. Starting around 2010, when Apple’s consumer-gadgets business started to become its main area of focus, I started to get a little uncomfortable with the lack of support for FCP. But, I had faith in Apple.

Until “FCP X” came out. That was the last straw. Was I really expected to upgrade my software to a version that would not allow me to access my previous 10 years of work? One that had a totally different interface, with LESS functionality, and was clearly designed for the consumer market? And was I supposed to do all that when Adobe Premiere Pro WOULD allow me to import my old Final Cut projects, and DID offer professional features, PLUS a host of benefits that FCP didn’t?

Now, to answer the question at hand: Premiere Pro is SO much better than FCP! Here are just a few of the main reasons:

“The Great Gatsby” Doesn’t Disappoint

In anticipation of watching Baz Luhrmann’s “Great Gatsby” on DVD, I re-read the original novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. What follows are my impressions of the film. If you haven’t seen it, this will probably make no sense to you at all.

Overall, I thought Baz nailed it. NAILED it.

Now, in fairness, the device of having Nick in a rest home getting over his trauma was unnecessary, and bugged me a bit. But, I thought the characters were good. It was interesting, too, that the bits of dialogue that were not in the original book stood out like a sore thumb. Unsurprisingly, you can’t just add things to Fitzgerald’s writing.

How To Format An External Harddrive in Mac OS

The end of the year is a great time to tie up loose ends that accumulated through the year. In the modern era, a big loose end for many of us involves computer data.

External harddrives are more affordable than ever, so there’s really no excuse for not having a physical backup of your information. Even if you have cloud storage, there’s something reassuring about a physical object that you can pick up and put somewhere safe.

Seagate and Western Digital dominate the external harddrive market. I often buy drives from these two manufacturers at Costco, which has great prices, but never offers drives that are formatted for Mac OS.

This is important, because these drives generally come out of the box formatted either with “FAT32” (which has a 4GB filesize limit – an unacceptable limitation for folks working with video files), or “NTFS” (which can be read by Mac machines, but not written to). There is something called the “exFAT” file system, which is supposed to work perfectly with both Windows and Mac, but there have been numerous reports of exFAT drives becoming corrupted by Mac OS, so I would not recommend it at this point.

The safest approach is to use the Mac OS Disk Utility to quickly format your external harddrive to work perfectly with your Apple machine. If you’ve done this once or twice, it’s easy, but the first time through, there are a lot of options to sift through. Here’s the way to do it.

New Portraiture eBook

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I am very excited to announce that my newest eBook, You Can Shoot Upscale Portraitureis now available on Amazon.com, for direct download to your Kindle-enabled device.

The concept behind You Can Shoot Upscale Portraiture is to help photographers take their family, corporate, senior or bridal portraits to the next level, with studio techniques borrowed from high-end editorial photography.

This book includes detailed, fully-illustrated instructions for nine different portrait setups, complete with portfolio-worthy samples of real people – not models – photographed like celebrities. The setups includes behind-the-scenes images, 3-D rendered lighting diagrams, and concise instructions on lighting and backgrounds.

Best of all, these setups can be assembled in minutes at any location, and require nothing more than three lights and a few basic items. You DON’T need your own studio or a ton of expensive equipment to take magazine-quality portraits.

Photo Processing & Color Grading Tips

Working in the intersection of photography and video production, I’ve noticed that the tasks of color-grading and photo processing have become more and more similar. What used to be limited to basic adjustments of brightness, contrast and hue is now a full-fledged part of the creative process.

Let me take this opportunity to mention that I am by no means an expert in either color grading or photo processing. However, I have found a few things that work for me. If you are a sophisticated colorist, you know more than I do. If you’re not, you might find some of these tips useful.

For the sake of consistency, I’m using a photo and a video of the same model, taken at the same time, with the same camera (Canon 5D Mk II). The color grading screenshots show the H264-compressed video being worked with inside Premiere Pro, and the photo processing screenshots show the RAW photo being worked with inside Lightroom.

DP Creates App To Help Film Crews Working In China

ipad englishFeature film cinematographer and CrewOfOne reader Dean Head wrote to share with me an intriguing app  that he has created. It is called “Hollywood in China,” and Dean describes it as “an App that translates more than 1,000 film & video terms and phrases with pre-recorded voice files that can be heard and played face to face over a phone or walkie talkie.”

Since I have never been to China, I asked Dean some questions about the app, and his background. It turned out to be quite a fascinating story! I hope you enjoy it.

One Perfect Shot Is All You Need

NOTE: Director Andreas Nilsson was kind enough to answer a few questions about the production of this spot! I’ve updated this post accordingly.

I’ve often said that a simple shot executed well is better than a complex shot executed poorly. Then again, a complex shot executed well can be absolutely riveting.

This Volvo commercial consists of a single, continuous shot. I wondered what kind of rig was used to support the camera for this kind of motion, and Andreas Nilsson, the director of the commercial, told me that he used a “Russian Arm. It’s basically a car with a techno-crane type thing on it.”

The camera work, the motion of the trucks, and the action of the actor (Jean-Claude Van Damme, for you youngsters out there who didn’t grow up watching “Bloodsport” and “Lion Heart”), work in perfect sync. Even though the scene is backlit by a rising sun, the lighting on the trucks and the actor is flawless. I had suspected that HMIs or reflectors were used, but Nilsson told me that, actually, it was lit only by ambient light! The spot was shot on an Arri Alexa, and graded by The Mill in London. I’m amazed that they were able to pull so much detail out of an entirely backlit image.

Really, really nice work!

Thank you again, Andreas Nilsson, for sharing the production details with us.