Spending a lot of time making short movies for Zach Theatre.

I definitely bit off more than I could chew for what is basically a one person shop. In a moment of languorous downtime I agreed to make five short videos to help Zach Theatre market a fun new production: Million Dollar Quartet. The video above is the first one out of the chute and I'm pretty happy with it. As usual, I learned a lot in the shooting and there are things I would change, but for the most part I am happy with our mini-movie.

I was happy to be able to work with #1 (and only) son, Ben. He helped me schlepp way too much gear over to the Topfer Stage at the Zach Theatre campus on a very hot day. Helped set up the lighting and also ran the second camera. His footage is the stuff you'll like of Cole while mine is the stuff of which you'll say, "Dude, you lit this way too flat..." 

We shot four interviews on location over the course of a long afternoon and then I came back the next day to interview the show's director. After the interviews Ben helped me disassemble all the junk and get it back to the studio. Today he dropped by the studio to see what kind of progress I was making in the editing and it took all his restraint to keep from pushing me out of the edit chair and jumping in, elbow deep. He gave me a legal pad page of "suggestions" and then left for lunch. I'd be stern and cajole him into doing the actual work but I value his expertise more and don't want to push ---- especially since there's no real budget for editing....

The one thing I would like to direct your attention to is the sound. As I wrote a week or so ago, this was our first real immersion using the Samson C02 cardioid microphone and I am blown away with how clean and noise free it is. I would buy a second one if they did not already come two to a package. It's astoundingly good, in my opinion.

I'm always happy when I can shoot an early rehearsal to get some good photos/stills for b-roll but then you get into an ongoing debate of where to stop. I had the piece almost fully edited when I went over to Zach yesterday to watch the technical rehearsal. Of course the actors were now in (nearly complete) costumes and so when I looked at some photographs I'd taken at an earlier rehearsal I immediately wanted to pull the older ones and drop in the new ones. Sounds easy but everything takes time....

So, what did I shoot with?  Most of the stills come from a Panasonic G85 equipped with various ancient Olympus Pen FT lenses. A few of the shots are from yesterday and were shot with the GH5 and an older Carl Zeiss 28-85mm f3.5-4 that was originally made to work on the Contax/Yashica SLRs.

When I actually hit focus both rigs worked very well. If anything I'd say the G85 outperformed the GH5 for exposure and accuracy of exposure and color on the EVF. But take that with a grain of salt because I am still in early days with the GH5.

The b-roll video of stage performances was done with the G85 and the same Pen FT lenses; all handheld and initially shot in 4k and downsampled. The interview footage was shot with two cameras: the frontal camera (my less favorite footage) was my Panasonic fz2500. My mistake? Combining an inadvertently introduced shadow/highlight curve along with the typical flat CineLike D profile. Ouch. (Lesson: always zero out your camera before each new project...). Now that's hard to post process. Ben was much more meticulous with his side angle shots of Cole. He was using a Sony RX10ii. And apparently he used it well.

Our sound track is from live recordings made during rehearsals. My thanks to Allen Robertson for his generous musical assist. The errant guitar riff at the mention of "Elvis" was added by me. Tacky but fun. Just don't blame Allen.

As usual, as long as you aren't snarky, vindictive and mostly say nice things about my work I'd welcome your feedback. I've got a few more videos to go so now is the time for feedback. Really.


Rev. Heng Sure said...

Your short video makes me want to see the show! Cole's glow, his twang, his sincerity all hit the spot, captured effectively through the medium of your moving pictures. Message communicated!

Frank Grygier said...

Great camerawork...Ben. Very nice piece.

Anonymous said...

Finally, Kirk learns how to make one just the right length!

Anonymous said...


I'm not damning by faint praise when I say I like the video. As to the lighting, you set up the lighting and in camera contrast for almost a 2 stop difference between his left and right side of his face. Ben chose a greater difference. I'm reminded of a quote from Ben that you posted years ago; "you fear contrast, I don't". But at the end of the video you pulled back from the actor and his very white hand, black shirt, and tanned face. Your exposure choice and contrast make a lot of sense in the context of the video as a whole.


Really like the sound and the stills. Main difference I see in the stills is the lighting of the two rehearsals.

Michael Matthews said...

Superb once again. The lighting difference in the two views of Cole speaking went completely unnoticed until it was pointed out in your copy. The editing and pacing are great. The stills and onstage video with theater lighting are rich and beautifully composed. And your use of movement with stills and the timing of it is even better than before. Sound quality -- completely transparent. It simply doesn't call attention to itself.

By the way, if you had been in high school in 1956, instead of rolling around in your crib, you might have engaged in argument over whether the original by Carl Perkins or the later cover release by Elvis Presley was the better version of Blue Suede Shoes. You might even have (ahem) owned a pair.

And the brush needed to refresh the nap of the suede. And the little porous bag of darl blue chalk dust used to cover up serious damage like that caused by being stepped on. Oh, my.