Here is the video I made over the last weekend. It's an interview with an extremely talented projection designer at the Theatre.

Interview with Stephanie Busing, Projection Designer for ZACH Theatre. from Kirk Tuck on Vimeo.

Here's a link to the video resident on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/254954087

I hope instead of watching the lower res video embedded here that you'll click through to Vimeo and see a larger and less compressed version!

Things sometimes move quickly as deadlines and first previews approach live theater productions. It was Thursday of last week when the marketing director at ZACH Theatre sent me an e-mail asking if I would be interested in making a 2:30 minute video about the production designer/video designer for the first big show of the season: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time." 

The play is a Tony Award winner and has earned lots of positive press. Earlier in the week I'd shot photographs for general marketing and public relations at both the tech rehearsal and the dress rehearsal and I loved the look and feel of the stage design, the lighting and the moving graphics so I was happy to accept the assignment.

Of course, then the client casually dropped the caveat. It was late Thursday and the only day we could schedule and shoot the interview was the next morning; Friday. I had a gap in the schedule and I nervously agreed and then we were off and running.

I packed everything I thought I would need in one very large, rolling case and one small backpack. I took along a bunch of Aputure 672S battery powered LED panels, assorted light stands, some umbrellas and pop-up modifiers, a selection of microphones and cables. In the small backpack I put together a Panasonic GH5 with the XLR adapter, a bunch of prime lenses, a light meter, a gray target and a set of headphones. I wore the backpack and dragged the case on its cute wheels.

We decided to shoot the interview with Stephanie Busing (Amazing Projection and Video Designer) in her working aviary in the technical booth at the back of the main theater. The booth sits high up above the audience seats and offers a mountain climber's view of the stage. She generally works her with a computer and various techie tools. It's an honest space and it seemed to suit her no nonsense approach to the mountain of highly creative work she does.

I was ready to start setting up lights and stands until I slowed down and just looked at the light that was already there. It was a bit rough but definitely usable. Mostly ceiling mounted florescent fixtures as well as a few little work lights. When I finished looking the space over I decided to leverage just the available light and to add more front file with the silver side of a 40 inch, pop-up, circular reflector.  I caught a few reflections in her glasses but I thought they added to the authenticity of the scene.

The space was narrow and the ceiling low, with lots of reflective glass and a pervasive rumbling burr of computer fans and vague light hums. Not particularly good for shotgun microphones but just right for a hard-wired lavaliere mic (wired = less electrical interference...).  I miked Stephanie and we chatted about her methodologies before we got rolling. She's brilliant.

I tried a different technique with my camera this time and it mostly worked for me. I was bored with using a tripod and having an unmoving camera base. In real conversations both parties move, sway, acknowledge and are replete with the normal human flaws that mean one is never totally still on either side of the discussion. I discarded the tripod and used a monopod with the little feet at the bottom. It anchored me but left in enough movement to make the footage more real to me.

The interview was conducted by ZACH's marketing manager, Drew, but I wanted Stephanie to directly address the camera; I thought it would be more compelling for viewers and, given her experience as a video artist I was pretty certain it wouldn't intimidate her in the least.

We rolled the camera on about 12 minutes of interview stuff before we figured we had ample content for a 2:30.

Another set of camera notes: We recently have been shooting most productions in 4K but I've been playing around with the 1080p footage of the GH5's after installing the firmware upgrade that gifted us users with All-Intra footage at 200 mb/s. There's a lot to like about All-intra files. They might be memory hogs on the actual SD cards but they are easy on the editing software. Another reason to shoot All-intra files is being made currently on the technical video sites around the web and that reason has to do with "cadence." The All-Intra footage is much less prone to artifacting during camera movements and seems more "real" in the viewing. The high bit rate file format also delivers sharp and detailed footage. I was happy with my results and will do this again when I have more moving subject.

I shot with the Rokinon 50mm f1.2 lens I've written about recently. It doesn't cover full frame sensors but is optimized for cropped frame camera use. Mirror-free cameras in particular. You can judge for yourself how well the lens performed at f2.0. (and how well or how poorly I was able to maintain focus on a "target" with some random movement. Using V90 rated SD cards means never having to say, "oops! I dropped some frames." 

The animation and stage footage in the spot was provided by Stephanie and I got to watch her shoot during the tech rehearsal. She used a Panasonic GH3 with a 12-35mm f2.8 lens and a Zyhongyi video gimbal to shoot her footage handheld. Yes, another Panasonic camera fan!

For this show she traveled to London (the play is based in London) to capture video in train stations and in neighborhoods mentioned in the original book from which the play evolved.

Editing:  I sat down to edit with my original interview footage and cut it into a four minute+ spot. Drew helped me distill it down to the current length. It's much better than what I started with... With all the cuts (and there were many) done I started looking through assets with which to drop into my B-roll. I used many of the still, photographic images I'd shot in the previous rehearsals and mixed them in with Stephanie's stage footage and animations.

I sourced the music from a service called: Premium Beat and paid (as everyone should) the licensing fee for this single use. I sent along the usage license and paid invoice to the client for their records. If you do stuff legally there's a lot less to cry about down the road.

If the video prompts the sale of an additional number of tickets it will have done its job. For me the real reward was in just doing the production. What fun is great gear and good intentions if you don't have anything to aim them towards?

A New Generation of Stripped Down Cameras based on Smart Phones? It's a marketing idea I think would work well. Right now.

Photograph from our marketing shoot for ZACH Theatre's production of:
"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time."

I was hauling my enormous Panasonic G85 around with me this morning as Studio Dog and I patrolled the neighborhood looking for deers and skunks at which to bark. I was giving some long thought to a few things I'd read recently on the web about using cellphones as cameras, in place of "real" cameras and it struck me that we've come to believe that it's a multiplicity of uses that drives adaptation of smart phones to take some people's daily photos. 

I began to think: What if it's not the immediacy of being able to send a photo that moment that's driving the adoption? What if people just like the form factor and the fact that newer generations of processors and software have made the images from the small form factors much more appealing and technically sufficient? 

The top dog in the cellphone market right now, for photography, video and day-to-day stay in touch at all costs syndrome, is probably the iPhone X. Big screen, fast processing, many (too many) features, much technology dedicated to things like facial recognition, banking security, fast access to multiple networks, the ability to crunch more data more quickly, etc. The downside of owning the "best" cellphone camera on the market is obviously the price. It's north of a thousand bucks. 

This led me to start thinking about an alternate product; one that I would want to have, one that would appeal to purists looking to downsize from Godzilla DSLRs into a product that was capable of taking good images but really, really fit into a pocket. And how about one without a recurring, monthly price burden? 

There are many times when I think I would like to own a super small camera that did 4K video, had image stabilization, made good images and had ample storage. Something the size of my iPhone 5S but without the initial purchase price penalty or the monthly subscription to AT&T to keep the whole mess breathing.

Here's the camera I designed in my head as Studio Dog sniffed fresh deer poop: It would have the same form factor as the iPhone 5S. All internal electronics would be dedicated to the perfect processing of images and videos. There would be no web access, no wi-fi, no bluetooth, no apps. It would shoot in raw and basic Jpeg as well as H.265 video. There would be three external ports across the bottom end of the device: One 3.5mm jack for microphones. One 3.5mm jack for headphones. One USB3 C port for charging and seamless downloading of images. The interior space would be dedicated to battery, processing and storage. No antennae, no gingerbread, but also no high prices.

The mini-camera should hit the market at $199 or less. A one time buy. No contracts. No monthly dues. No endless parade of apps to buy. Just buy the device, charge it and go shoot. Finished shooting? Go home, plug it into your computer, tablet or laptop (or even your phone) and download your images. Recharge, do it again.

There are already cheap phones on the market with cameras but most of them absolutely suck as a camera. Think of this device as the iPod of cameras. A dedicated device tuned to the way real photographers want to use them. 

Yes, we are all pretty affluent and we already have phones but think about the legions of younger, less affluent people who can't afford the stretch to the very best phones --- especially the weird conundrum of unlocked phones with no service plan. I think they (the ardent imaging fans) would lunge for something like this. 

Think also of the people who need "crash cameras" for dangerous shooting situations where the likelihood of losing a camera is high. A bag full of $199 fully capable mini-cams could be just right. They would be elegant versions of GoPros but with better performance and a more enticing design aesthetic. 

I'd buy one in a heartbeat. Part of the attraction to me is the singular nature of the device's nature. It would have one role; imaging. It would have one attractive feature set: easy to carry and nearly disposable. It would be the perfect camera for kids and people who sometimes get pushed into the swimming pool with their street clothes on. Might not survive the chlorinated water but it wouldn't cost a thousand bucks to replace. 

I don't always want a phone. If I used my iPhone as a camera I would be pissed off when people called as I was trying to take a photo. If I turn off the phone I also turn off the camera. Yes, I could ignore the ring but yes, I could ignore mosquitos and loud banging noises but they don't help me concentrate on the task at hand. 

Would you buy one? Something the photographic equivalent of an iPhone 6 or 7 but without all the social magnet bullshit installed? I would. I would jump at the chance. For those times when I'm in a suit and tie and a camera slung over the shoulder just isn't right....