Thursday, January 19, 2012

Placeholders Ep 2, top 10 lists, and some Zacuto gear reviewed!

A three-parter today. I'm apparently going from zero to sixty in the blogging world again. I'll shoot by the first couple rather quickly.

First off, Placeholders - Episode 2 is up over at! Go check it's where the foundation REALLY starts to get poured down for the wackiness we'll be building over the course of the rest of the episodes. Really like how this one came together, and think all the gags still work. And of course, it's great to see Debbie fully inhabit the Carla role. Can't wait for that arc to play out...bwa ha ha. Also, Fangoria did a nice write up on Placeholders, which you can read here. Thanks, Fango!

Secondly, quite a few folks recently (for whatever reason, independently of one another) have asked me what my favorite horror films are. I've also been revisiting Stephen King's Danse Macabre I'm in that "list your personal faves" kind of mood. Here's my top 10:

A Nightmare on Elm Street
From Beyond
The Shining
The Fly (Cronenberg)
Fright Night
Night Of The Creeps
Return of the Living Dead

Psycho, Scanners, Videodrome, and Ghost Story get honorable mentions as they can creep in there depending on my mood. All hold a special place in my heart.

I guess since I'm doing that for horror, I should probably do the same for comedy, what with Placeholders and all.'s the personal fave comedy list.

This Is Spinal Tap
Beverly Hills Cop (though I actually consider it more an action film w/funny moments, still...banana in the tailpipe, laymon tweest, etc.)
The Blues Brothers
The Jerk
Animal House
The 40 Year Old Virgin (trust me, I was as surprised then as you are now)
South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut
Shaun of the Dead

Honorable mentions this time are Better off Dead, Grosse Pointe Blank (again, that's a BH Cop situation), Airplane!, and The Naked Gun.

So there you have it. All my inner cinematic workings laid bare. Now I can just get lazy and hand folks a business card with a link when they ask me these questions.


Now that Episode 2 of Placeholders is up (see above), I feel like the time is right to go ahead and post these revi
ews and pics of the Zacuto gear that we used on that part of the shoot. Mostly used during the shoots for Placeholders episodes 2, 3, and 4, the Cross Fire, Z-Finder, and EVF Flip are all camera support elements geared toward making "film-style" DSLR shooting easier.

Let me backtrack a little first to give some context. I'm 35, and went through film school in the late 90's/early 00's. As a result, the first several projects I worked on for other folks were shot on film. The first few things I did personally were shot on film. My shoulder has been home to quite a few Arri 16-BL's and even a 35-BL a time or two (it might have actually been a 35-3, I don't remember. Ah, youth. :) At any rate, coming up through film school, commercial production, a few feature film and music video sets, I was used to lugging those big bastards around on my body. Even when I began working at the public access station and using THAT equipment, it didn't stray far from the the paradigm, as things back then were still shot using heavy, unwieldy 3/4" ENG kits. Obviously, my point here is that during my formative cameraman/DP/operator years, I got used to the weight, the eyeline, and the grip stature that came from handling those monstrous cameras.

Of course, the digital revolution happened, and I've since done or produced projects that were shot on everything from the Canon GL1 to the RED, and everything in between. But - it is important to note that about 80 percent of those times, I wasn't the one shooting the thing. On the off chance that I personally had to operate camera on second unit or pickups, I would rarely shoot handheld. If I tried it (mostly with a DVX, XH-A1, or HVX), I would instantly become uncomfortable with the "feel" and I was never terribly happy with my results afterward. Usually I'd lock things off on a tripod and shoot that way, unless the handheld approach absolutely HAD to happen for the shot. Long story short...I really didn't (still don't) like shooting things that way with small cameras.

Of course, once the decision was made to shoot Placeholders on a Canon 7D, I got even more sketched out about going handheld for the episodes I directed (I served as camera op/DP on those as well). Add to this the fact that I was still pretty resistant to DSLR shooting overall (insert whatever archaic, inflexible motives you wish to honestly probably aren't too far off-base), and...well, let's just say I was somewhat worried going into the shoot.

The Zacuto gear assuaged my fear in literally a manner of minutes. First up was the Cross Fire apparatus alone, as a few of the shots we had planned required the use of an on-camera light (as shown in the pic above). Once we got the camera set up and ready to rock on the Cross Fire...I honestly didn't want to put the damn thing back on the tripod. The weight, functionality, grip placement and adjustable points of articulation were all where they needed to be and easy
to tweak to my frame. After I had my setup "dialed in", I found myself being able to go for pretty long stretches of shooting without any issues or fatigue. In the past, I've had shoulder and ba
ck pain set in pretty quick with similar rigs...not so with the Cross Fire. As a result, we were able to positively blaze through our second and fourth episodes (which, thanks to Zacuto, now included about 90% handheld footage). I strongly believe that those aforementioned extra points of adjustment make all the can really micromanage the architecture of the Cross Fire to fit your exact personal comfort level, rather than just maybe getting in the ballpark.

I must admit to some level of skepticism when setting up the strap-on follow focus portion of the Cross Fire (I felt like there was too much slack in the Zip Gear...admittedly, this was probably due to a fair amount of "operator error" on my part), but when everything was set up and ready to issues whatsoever. Actually, the rig worked so well that I came up with a few complicated multi-focus-pull shots on the fly...and knocked them out with no issues. Bottom line: the Zacuto Cross Fire very quickly became an integral part of our production strategy. A highly recommended piece of gear.

I found myself using the Zacuto EVF Flip and Z-Finder a little less frequently - again, the blame lies all on me and my bad habits - but I absolutely made a point to bring them both into the game whenever I found myself fairly awash in light (due to the lighting design, it happened a lot - especially in Episode 4 where operating production lights were actually part of the set dressing). The difference was as drastic as you can imagine...they really took the guesswork out of exposure and focusing. Color and tonal representation were extremely true (to these tired eyes, at least), and the ability to offset the apparatus in nearly any position (thanks to that lovely Zacuto articulation) and the oversized eyecup really added to the comfort factor. Also, did I mention that the EVF Flip uses a standard DLSR battery? Freaking awesome.
During the shoots for Episode 3 (which I didn't direct), I noted that my colleague, Chris Warren (pictured above) almost exclusively went with the "Z-Finder on camera body" configuration, since most of Ep 3 was shot on sticks. He apparently loved it, and I noticed that the Z-Finder aided considerably in the composition and execution of the shots that day. Of course, being in the role of "Producer" as I was for E3, my senses were heightened for such things.

In summation - Zacuto makes really, really good stuff. I'd actually go so far as to call it an indispensable part of the DSLR shooter's repertoire...especially if you're looking to step your game up to more professional, cinematic levels. Speaking of stepping up the game...check out the Scorpion rig that Zacuto has recently unleashed. Gives me chills.

Well...that's it for now. I'm sure I'll be back soon as there's a TON of stuff going on right now (Soon, Imago, Placeholders, some others). And for those wondering, Placeholders Episode 3 will hit the web the second week of February! In the meantime, show your friends Episode 1 and 2 all over again!

- Mel


Steve Weiss said...

Great review

Steve Weiss said...

Great review