Thursday, 28 November 2013

Our Work: KIPP 2013 Gala Video

Client: KIPP Houston, a network of charter schools which develops in underserved students the academic skills, intellectual habits, and qualities of character necessary to succeed at all levels of pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, college, and the competitive world beyond.

Goal: Produce a video to be shown at KIPP's annual fundraising gala, which highlights and exemplifies each of KIPP's core character strengths, as well as featuring the success stories of KIPP alumni. Footage was shot on location at KIPP SHINE prep, KIPP Houston High School, and KIPP Academy Middle School and featured second grader, Madison Padilla.

Spot: KIPP: 2013 Gala Video

Monday, 25 November 2013

The 3 Best Un-Holiday Holiday Movies

Wow. It's finally here. The Holiday Season has arrived. As we all know, the best thing about the holiday season isn't the music (you're already sick of that and we haven't quite made it to Thanksgiving yet), the food (which is totally a love/hate relationship; you love to eat it, but hate how it makes you feel afterwards), or the presents (well... presents rule). It is, however, THE FILMS.

The thing is, some of the best holiday films are not technically holiday films at all. In fact, in my three favorite [un-holiday] holiday films, the holidays are just the backdrop of more prominent themes like drugs, murder, and poverty. So if you're looking to get away from the traditional dysfunctional family (Home Alone, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation), Good vs. Evil (How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Christmas Carol), and the Hero-Saves-The-Day holiday films, check these out. I promise you'll be in for a treat.

3. L.A. Confidential

Nominated for 9 Academy Awards, L.A. Confidential is the perfect homage to the film-noir style of film. This film reminds us of a tragedy that occurred on Christmas Day when 6 prisoners were attacked by 50 or so police officers. This real event (Bloody Christmas, Christmas Day 1951) is beautifully brought to life by a brilliant ensemble cast including Kevin Spacey, Guy Pearce, Danny Devito and James Cromwell. Note: L.A. Confidential is one to watch once the kids have gone to bed.

2. The French Connection

Holding the honor of being the first R-rated movie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards, The French Connection stars the great Gene Hackman and Roy Schneider as NYPD detectives who made a simple drug bust that led them to the largest heroine smuggling syndicate in the world. Power-backed with a chase scene and Gene Hackman in a Santa suit, this thriller is sure to keep you glued to the screen.

3. Brazil

Set during the Christmas season, this masterly-crafted film vividly depicts a story about the power of imagination as it battles the pwoer of oppression and hopelessness. I love this film, because it really make me thinka bout our society, the government, technology, human behavior, love and how they all impact our every day lives. The characters and themes are so complex it's hard to take it all in after one viewing. Don't believe me? Check out this itneresting, weird, yet amazing scene from the film.

Writing this paragraph made me realize two things about this film- it's hard to summarize, and it's so awesome I can't just pinpoint one reason why. So if you're looking to give your brain an exercise after spending hours mindlessly gift wrapping, watch this film. A must-see for any time of the year.

So what are your favorite un-holiday holiday themed movies? Let us know by commenting below or tell us on Twitter @swagger_media.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Our Work: mReminder

Client: mReminder, the world's first mobile-enabled family reminder and scheduling device.

Goal: Combining preexisting footage and stock, script and edit a brief Kickstarter video that explains mReminder's features and functionality.

Spot: mReminder Kickstarter Video

Monday, 18 November 2013

3 Hispanic Movies You MUST Watch

Being both Hispanic and a film lover, I always try to watch more than just the typical Hollywood or blockbuster productions. I have learned to root for and appreciate Hispanic movies because of their scripting, their directing, their actors, their raw concepts and their fabulous look. Some of them haven’t had much success outside of their main country, but a lot of them have been awarded and recognized worldwide.

Among the best and well-known Hispanic movies of this century, I picked 3 of my favorites, so you can start adding them to your watch list (if you haven’t already), and see if you can catch the Hispanic film fever (no, it’s not like Bieber fever. Sorry! I mean, you're welcome? Either way!). BEWARE! Here they come (ordered by date, not by choice):

    Amores Perros/Love’s a Bitch (Mexico, 2000)
Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Producer: Alejandro González Iñárritu
Writer: Guillermo Arriaga
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Watch the trailer here!  

Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film (2001), winner of the Cannes Film Festival for Best Feature (2000), and recognized with other several awards, this movie is one of the best Mexican classics of all time. Starring Gael García Bernal (also known for “Y Tu Mamá También”), Goya Toledo and Emilio Echeverría, this film tells the story of a tragic car accident that connects the lives of three people in a magnificent, yet dark and violent way. It embraces themes like love, death, betrayal, hope, and of course, dogfighting, one of the cruel realities in Mexico.

My opinion: Latin American reality in 24 frames per second. Outstanding script and organic performances. It embraces “love” in all its ways and forms, even in the ugly ones. Also, Gael García Bernal is splendid here.

     Planta 4ta/4th Floor (Spain, 2003)
Director: Antonio Mercero
Producer: César Benitez and Emilio A. Pina
Writers: Antonio Mercero and Albert Espinosa (play)
Genre: Drama/Comedy
Watch the trailer here!  

Originally a play called “Los Pelones”/“The Baldies” and based on the true story of Albert Espinosa, this piece might not be as well known as the other two, but I think it was one of my first contacts with Spanish cinema. Winner of Best Director and People’s Choice Award in the Montreal World Film Festival (2003), among other European and Spanish recognitions and nominations, this film tells the story of a group of teenagers that share their hopes, dreams and fears inside of the cancer ward of a hospital. Starring Juan José Ballesta (Goya Award winner for “El Bola”), Luis Ángel Priego and Gorka Moreno, this movie perfectly balances comic and dramatic situations where the boys will have to learn how to deal with their fate while growing up inside of those white walls. It’s a truthful story about friendship and survival.

My opinion: Mercero does a splendid job on managing such a delicate and emotional subject through smart and refreshing comedy. Juan José Ballesta’s performance is as stunning as the one in “El Bola”; honest, playful and raw when it comes to hard and sad scenes. This movie will probably make you cry, but I can guarantee you will enjoy those tears afterwards.

El Secreto de Sus Ojos/The Secret in Their Eyes (Argentina, 2009)
Director: Juan José Campanella
Producer: Juan José Campanella
Writers: Eduardo Sacheri and Juan José Campanella
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Watch the trailer here

Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (2010) and Goya Award winner for Best Spanish Language Foreign Film (2010), this movie has turned every filmmaker and cinephile’s attention into Argentinian cinema, especially after Campanella’s success with “The Son of The Bride”. Starring Ricardo Darín (also known for “Nueve Reinas”), Soledad Villamil, Pablo Rago, Javier Godino and Guillermo Francella, this film tells the story of Espósito, a retired lawyer who’s writing a novel about an unsolved murder that happened in 1974 and his search for the killer. Espósito fights his past choices, his doubts, and his secret feelings for his boss to finally find out the truth about the crime and its tragic consequences. It is a story about love, grief, corruption, perseverance, loyalty and blind commitment.

My opinion: Perfectly directed, beautiful shots and color temperature. The stadium scene is probably one of the greatest scenes ever written and made. Ricardo Darín does an incredible job, as always. It is definitely a film that makes me proud as a Latin American, and I’m not even Argentinian.

So tell me, have you watched some or all three of these Hispanic pieces? What do you think about them? Can you add other Hispanic films to this list? What makes them great? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet @swagger_media!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Our Work: Reasoning Mind 2013 Gala Video

Client: Reasoning Mind, a hybrid of online and face-to-face instruction where the teacher gives each child individual help and attention. A non-profit organization founded in 2000, Reasoning Mind partners with a wide range of schools, including inner-city schools, suburban schools, private schools and magnet schools and results have shown that RM dramatically increases students' knowledge of math and improves their attitude toward the subject.

Goal: Produce a video to be shown to current and potential investors, educators and lawmakers showing the need for math reform in our nation and the success that Reasoning Mind has had with participating schools.

Spot: Reasoning Mind 2013 Gala Video

Monday, 11 November 2013

What to Expect When You're Expecting [to Be Interviewed]

There’s a surprising amount of work that goes into video production. Everything from the planning stages to the final airing of the finished product requires a lot of patience, organization, and attention to detail. The more I learn about production the more I realize how much we truly take for granted in every movie, television series, commercial, or web video we see. A thirty second commercial that you mostly ignore probably took weeks to complete and involved countless hours of hard work from many people.

When someone is tossed into this world and sees the magic behind the curtain it can be a bit overwhelming. This is usually the case with someone who sits down for a filmed interview for the first time; they see the lights, the sound equipment, several cameras pointed at them, and 5-6 people running around frantically trying to make sure everything is perfect. I’d like to help you avoid the inherent nervousness that can accompany this sort of situation. This is my guide on what to expect when you sit in that hot seat in front of all those cameras and lights.

When you finally get that perfect take.

1. Remember that if you look good, we look good. And trust me, we want to look good, so we will take care of you. This cannot be emphasized enough. It’s likely that the interview you’re doing will be cut, spliced, and stitched together in order to make your thoughts clear and concise. This doesn’t mean we’re going to cut your sentences in a way that makes you say something you weren’t trying to say, it means that we’ll help you make your point in the most graceful way we can. Often, an interviewee will slightly flub a word or briefly lose their train of thought and the idea that they messed up causes them to be more nervous than they already were. Just take a breath, gather your thoughts, and keep going, we’ll stitch it together later. If you nail it on the first take though, don’t be surprised if we ask you to do it again anyway, just in case! 

When we ask you the same question
for the 15th time.
2. It’s almost impossible to “over shoot.” We’re going to ask you to answer a lot of questions. Probably over and over again. This isn’t because you got something wrong or did a bad job, we just like to have a safety net in case there was something we missed, or you find a better way to say what you’re saying the 5th time around after you’ve really thought about it. There are a lot of reasons we might ask you to do a take over, so don’t assume it’s because you did something wrong. Just take that deep breath and go again!

3. It’s a conversation. There are a lot of different ways to conduct an interview, but typically the interviewer will be on either side of the camera and will ask you to look at them instead of into the camera. Wherever you’re asked to look, it’s pretty important to maintain that consistency. If you’re looking at the interviewer and all of the sudden glance into the camera it creates an unnatural scene. This is often referred to as ‘breaking the fourth wall’ and is usually not desirable. Focus on looking at the interviewer and speaking to them as if you were having a conversation and none of the equipment was around.

4. Well, it’s kind of a conversation... When the interviewer asks a question it’s easy to answer it without providing any context, as you would in real conversation. This is because everyone in the room just heard the question, so there’s no need to restate it. Except that in the video, odds are that the interviewer will not be heard. This means that if you answer without restating the question then there won’t really be much for us to pull from. For example, if the interviewer asks “Why do you think your company will be the next big thing?”, you shouldn’t say, “Because we’re awesome!” Instead, you should say, “My company will be the next big thing because.. [we’re awesome!]” This ensures that we can insert your response into the video and all the context of the original question is there.

5. What feels natural doesn’t necessarily look natural. There are a number of factors that affect the way the camera captures light, from aperture to shutter speed to the focal length of the lens. All of these factors and many, many more, affect the way we place you. This often involves sitting in chairs that seem too far or too close to tables, or with a posture that you wouldn’t normally use, or keeping your hands still and folded on your lap when you normally talk with them. Most of this has to do with the difference in perspective between what our eyes see and what the camera sees. It’s hard to give many ‘norms’ with this one as each situation is so drastically different. The one that I can say with some consistency though is that if you’re directed to sit in a chair, don’t move it (and if you’re on the production side, NEVER give the interviewee a chair that turns, rolls or moves in any way)! It’s ingrained in us to scoot a chair closer to the table when we sit in it, but chances are someone placed that chair exactly where it was supposed to be for the camera’s view. All this being said, let someone know if you’re uncomfortable, because if you’re uncomfortable, that’s just as likely to cause problems as whatever factor we were trying to adjust for.

When someone moves the chair we spent 20 minutes
painstakingly adjusting to the perfect position.

6. Relax. Easier said than done, but it definitely needs to be said. This all goes back to the first point I made, which is that the better we make you look the better we make ourselves look as a production company. It definitely requires a bit of faith, but you just have to trust that we’re going to make you look good. Don’t sweat the mistakes or nervousness, as those things tend to snowball and make themselves worse. Instead just relax and try again if you make a mistake, then let us take care of the rest.

7. Get your hair out of your face. This one is just practical. We want to see your face, not those cute bangs you love to hide behind when you’re nervous. So clip it back, tuck it behind your ear, do whatever you like to do so that we can best see and hear the insightful things you have to say!

What has your experience in front of (or behind) the camera been like? What sort of things can a director do to make you feel more comfortable in front of the camera? Let us know in the comments below or tweet @swagger_media. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Our Work: Teach for America Houston: "6 Degrees of Education"

Client: Teach for America Houston, a movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.

Goal: Within the time frame of approximately 3 weeks, conceptualize, shoot, and produce a 5-minute video to show at the Teach for America Houston yearly gala that elicits an emotional response, showing the interconnectivity and reach of the Teach for America community as well as the impact Teach for America has had on educational reform in Houston.

Spot: "6 Degrees of Education"

Monday, 4 November 2013

How to Make DSLR Video Look Like Film

I have been amazed at the cameras we at Swagger use regularly for film production. There’s the RED Epic Mysterium X which we used for several commercials earlier this summer, and the Black Magic Cinema Camera 2 that we utilize in a variety of projects as well.

Black Magic Cinema Camera 2 on the set of our Service First Commercial.

However, many film projects I have been a part of have required a lot of flexibility and a LOT of moving around quickly from one location to another. It’s for those reasons and many others that we use DSLRs for a good portion of our film projects.

I have been using a Canon DSLR since 2011, so it’s territory that I’m definitely most comfortable with in the digital video camera realm. DSLRs have so many functions that have the capability of turning digital video footage into breathtakingly beautiful 'filmesque' quality.

The fact that DSLRs are smaller and thus more portable than a Red or Black Magic makes them ideal when lugging them around from location to location on shoot days. And of course, they’re far more economical, too. Although we primarily use Canons, DSLRS in general are great to use in video production. Here are a few tips I have learned along the way that I have found the most helpful in getting DSLR to look the most like film.  

The Canon EOS 5d Mark III. She's a beauty. 

1. Keep Shutter Speed at 50
Why 50? Well, here’s the technical reason: Film cameras have a shutter, like a disc, that spins through 360º. Half of the shutter is covered and shields the light from getting to the film plane for half of its rotation. The purpose of this is for the film to move on to its next frame for exposure during the dark phase and put the next frame statically in place for its exposure. This effectively gives each frame a 180º exposure, in other words half the frame rate. Therefore, you need to set your DSLR at a shutter speed of half your frame rate. At 24p fps you ideally would have a shutter speed of 48. Since it’s not normally possible on a DSLR to have 48 fps, the next best thing is 50 fps (or 1/50th of a second). It’s a very subtle effect, and still maintains the cinematic blurriness we filmmakers so long for.

2. Keep Frame Rate at 24 fps
You may already know this, but if you want your footage to look the most cinematic, use 24 frames per second (fps). It has just the right amount of motion blur. Furthermore, the current standard number of frames per second in the film industry is 24 (regardless of what Peter Jackson attempted in the Hobbit with 48fps... I digress).

3. Lose the Picture Style Settings
If you want the most control over your footage, lose the Picture Style Settings. These settings come with many DSLRs and provide you with presets to augment the saturation, sharpness, color tone, and contrast in your video. 

The problem is that instead of these settings giving you a more film-like quality, the results are artificial and almost cheap looking, especially with the Sharpness level up.

Rather than using presets like Landscape or Portrait, try the Neutral setting, which has each level toned down a few notches. Yes, the overall result of your footage is going to be a little flat, but that just means you can enhance it in post without any artificial barriers!

4. Maintain a Shallow Depth of Field
Aperture refers to the size of the opening in the lens of the camera. The smaller the number of the aperture, the wider the opening of the lens, and the shallower depth of field. A shallow depth of field means that your subject will be in focus while everything behind your subject (and at times in front of your subject) has a very nice blur to it, also known as ‘bokeh’. Depth of field is what separates digital video and film. Why does film iconically have blurry backgrounds? The easy answer is this:

The background blur in this shot is so beautiful I just might cry.
Regardless if the subject is a toy hippo.

But seriously, maintaining a shallow depth of field really does wonders. It reduces background distractions, allowing the viewer to pay attention to the sole part of the image that's in the focus. Shallow depth of field also adds visual interest, like shifting the focus from something in the background to something closer, a technique known as 'rack focus'.

Keeping these basic but key tips in mind has helped me to achieve the film quality I desire, and I hope that it can also help you in getting a more cinematic look with your DSLR. 

Are we missing anything major from this list? How do you get film-quality footage out of your DSLR? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or tweet to us @swagger_media!