StillMotion’s KNOW Workshop


I recently attended a multimedia/filmmaking workshop put on by Toronto-based StillMotion. The company is hosting 36 workshops in cities around North America in the Fall of 2012. I recommend attending one of the storytelling skills sessions (roughly 9:00 AM – 5:30 PM). (I didn’t find the evening editing session to be as good: if you’re new to editing I think it would flow too quickly and if you’re familiar with editing I think you’d be familiar with most of what they covered.)

Here’s what I liked:

  • StillMotion’s presenters were experienced and very competent. I was very, very impressed with their work product: both wedding films and commercial work. (And StillMotion’s commercial clients are pretty “premier”, like Showtime, Callaway, the NFL, etc.).
  • StillMotion emphasized connecting EMOTIONALLY to subjects/characters being filmed.
  • StillMotion provided a step-by-step walk-through of two projects (a wedding highlights film and a commercial project), plus they discussed a third feature-length film project in detail. This was really interesting, as they took us through how the projects originated, how they worked with clients to prepare for the shoots, specific decisions they made when shooting and editing the films — and the rationale behind these decisions.
  • The presenters were young and enthusiastic. Helpful over a long workshop (which started at 9:00 AM and finished at 9:30 PM).
  • The presentation format was relaxed and informal.
  • StillMotion stressed using tools and techniques for specific purposes, not just for cool effects. They repeated that message often to drive the point home.
  • StillMotion demo’ed the equipment they use, including a simple DSLR filmmaking kit they typically use “for 90% of a shoot”.

If you can attend the one-day workshop I think you’ll come away impressed.  Even if you’re familiar with a lot of the gear and techniques, these folks do outstanding work and you’ll learn from how a commercial shop approaches it’s clients and keeps production humming along.


Mullen Football – Revised

I’ve updated the original “sound piece” I posted a couple of weeks ago to include a character who guides us through the piece, providing a personal perspective through which viewers can experience high school football. In addition, since the purpose of this short film is to generate enthusiasm for the upcoming season (amidst players, students and fans), I wanted a player to share his views on where the team stands at this point in time. There’s been a lot of disruptive activity in the program that the boys are trying to set aside to focus on the upcoming season.

Jesse plays offensive line for the team. I asked him if he’d be up to a short video interview that I could use for the piece. He asked what the purpose of the film was; I told him I wanted a character to “make sense” out of the original footage I’ve gathered — someone to describe what the summer’s preparation was like and what the upcoming season means from a personal, participant level.

Jesse was great. He shared his thoughts on the team and on himself and what this upcoming year means for him. He’s looking to play football in college and this is an important season for recruiting. Mullen is also in a state of transition: the school administration fired Dave Logan (a 12-year NFL veteran who had taken the school to 4 Colorado state championships, 3 of them back-to-back in undefeated seasons) in late 2011, shaking up the football program and laying in a new coaching staff for the upcoming year. (The school administrators who made these decisions were, in turn, let go in the first 6 months of 2012.) All of this change was extremely distracting for players, particularly upcoming seniors like Jesse, who saw their program unravel before their eyes. Suddenly all the college recruiting expertise and connections to college scouts were gone. The new coaching staff brought in a new offensive strategy — something that typically takes a season or two to establish — so the advantage of working Dave Logan’s offensive scheme for a 4th season in front of college scouts was replaced with the disadvantage of learning and performing a new offensive playbook.

But Jesse’s attitude was positive and upbeat. He refers to Dave Logan’s firing, but didn’t dwell on it. He’s positive and optimistic about the season (which includes a very, very tough schedule including an out-of-state trip to California to play perennial powerhouse De La Salle High School outside of San Francisco).

I think adding a character significantly enhances the story, converting it from a simple (but relatively boring) “sound piece” to a character profile about a kid and his upcoming adventures.

Jordan Wolfson – Painter

Here’s the second in a series of portraits of artists and creatives. Jordan Wolfson is a painter who lives and works in Boulder, Colorado.

I had a great time speaking with Jordan. We both had intense experiences to share about living in Israel and working on Kibbutzim as young men.  I also started my artistic career painting and drawing, so Jordan’s experiences resonate with me.

In terms of a project, I arranged to meet and interview Jordan via a cold call.  He was very friendly and supportive.  We met at his studio and talked for awhile as I picked up audio of the interview with my shotgun mic mounted on a stand, piped into a Marantz 661 digital audio recorder.  After we spoke, I wandered around his studio taking stills as he worked and we chatted.  In retrospect I wish I had used my macro lens on the small pictures of roses that Jordan discusses in the film.  During post production I wanted a better visual illustration to Jordan’s voice when he says, “You can see the brushstrokes and the viscosity of the paint.”  I think I could also have picked up some different types of shots — 20/20 hindsight.  On the whole I’m pleased with the piece.  It captures our conversation (sans mention of Israel), and it includes a sense of Jordan’s anxiety as he pushes his painting forward.

The only thing I don’t like is how YouTube froze an image in the middle of the film and automatically used that as the “thumbnail” for display purposes.  More accurately, YouTube’s capture distorts the color of that image.  I can’t find a way to override the auto-select/auto-correct of that image.  Yuck.


Raymond McCrea Jones – Damian’s Ride

Raymond McCrea Jones worked as a journalist with the NY Times after finishing up his journalism degree at UNC. While at the NY Times, Jones did a number of very, very powerful multimedia projects, including “Damian’s Ride” which in my book is just flat-out magnificent.

Click image below for short film on NY Times site.

What struck me most about this project was Jones’ pacing and suspense. Jones begins with close-ups of Damian pedalling, but with sub-titles we quickly learn that something may not be right. “When I’m riding a bike I feel like a normal person….” we read — so why wouldn’t this guy feel like a normal person when he’s off a bike. Boom – in the first 12 seconds I’m hooked. At 0:36 seconds we learn more: Damian is training to compete in the Paralympics. Okay, but from the images at this point you don’t see what’s wrong. We’re 1:10 into this film before we see Damian’s face. By then we know his backstory, how as a boy he was electrocuted while trying to recover his kite, leading to his disfigurement.

Also striking is the transposition of beauty and, hmmm, how do I say this?: awful. Jones’ records richly colored images of Damian’s action and bike, especially in the early portions of the film. Then Jones gives us Damian’s face. Wow. Those two components placed so closely together is really emotionally charged.

Wonderful angles. Wonderful story. Wonderful resolution. This is just…wonderful.

Raymond McCrea Jones now works as a commercial photographer in Atlanta, GA.

The Evolving High School Portrait

Here’s an interesting permutation of the high school portrait, employing audio interviews and ambient recordings with still photographs. (Click image for multimedia player.)

I like the quality of the sound – both interview tracks and recordings of ambient sound. I’m less thrilled with the still photos – to me the photographyer Tom Salyer ( seems to use too many of very similar shots. I think he could insert a greater variety of still photographs and create parallel visual stories to keep the mind occupied while listening to the audio tracks. This guy is a very good photographer, so that incremental change would really enhance the final production in my opinion.

In his blog, it’s clear that photographer Tom Salyer is spending a lot of time working to perfect his audio recording skills. He also references some other photographers who are collaborating to add motion and sound to still photography.

Bill Frakas

It’s been a long time since I’ve touched this blog due to some general craziness in my life – good, bad and everything in between.

Here are two short films by Bill Frakas, a renowned Sports Illustrated photographer who is getting his hands dirty in multimedia.

I prefer “Ada” to “Istanbul”. Ada slides me into into an individual’s life story. I walk away having learned something and having experienced something about a person I’m unlikely to meet. It’s not overwhelming but I like the vibe of the story.

I find Istanbul less satisfying. The images are undoubtedly excellent. But I don’t find a string of still photographs – even great photographs – intriguing enough to hold me for 5 minutes on the web. I’m not proud of it, but there you have it. I have a short attention span.

Norman Chichester, Poet (Reworked)

I revised this multimedia “portrait” of Norman Chichester, the poet that I introduced several posts ago. I think I’ve improved the storyline by restructuring some elements and introducing an opening question: how did this man overcome his physical impediment to write poetry?

I’m also testing out embedding video from YouTube instead of Vimeo.

Vexed By The Poet

Norman Chichester, a local poet, presents an interesting challenge. My goal is to create a multimedia portrait of Norman using still images and audio recordings of his voice. We met one evening to record Norman reading some of his poems and discussing their origin and source.

What I’m finding is that while Norman is a very interesting guy, he is essentially a content man who has lived a full life and relishes his memories. Creating a stimulating story about a quiet, content man is surprisingly difficult. I took a number of photos of him from a variety of angles – but despite the variation of angles and perspectives, at the end of the day what I now hold are quite similar-looking images of a man sitting in a chair reading. Norman’s vocal intonations are great, but you can only do so much… It’s anything but dynamic.

The fundamental problem is the lack of story. There’s no beginning, middle, and end — just an end: a vignette of Norman as he is today.

So I went back to Norman’s place this weekend to get something of his history — how this poetry thing came to be. It turns out Norman has a very interesting story. He was always interested in language, even in childhood. But a physical limitation (a tremor in his hands) prevented Norman from living the life of a poet. Norman’s writing was so poor, he told me, that it was virtually indeciperable to read. Instead of the life of a writer, Norman pursued a career for 35 years as a square dance caller and teacher. “A square dance teacher,” he told me, “is something of a bard. He creates poetry in the moment in the great tradition of the storyteller.” He has to create rhymes at the spur of the moment, directing his dancers around the floor. Norman’s 35 years of square dance calling served as his school for meter, rhyme and performance.

In his 50s, Norman acquired a word processing computer which served to liberate him from his physical limitation. “I was finally able to write poetry,” he said. And he’s continued to do so well into his 70s.

I’m now embedding some audio clips and still images within this larger story of how Norman overcame his physical limitations to write poetry after decades of frustration.

What Do You Care About?

This weekend I attended a workshop with Ed Kashi, a well-known and very talented photojournalist. The workshop format included a review of several of Ed’s projects (still photography and multimedia), followed by Ed’s review and critique of participant portfolios.

As Ed critiqued portfolios he repeatedly asked the photographer, “What do you care about?” In the context of a portfolio review, Ed wants to know what motivates the photographer — because that provides the fuel to drive that photographer to improve his or her skills. Ed explained his approach in a photo project: he becomes “maniacal” in getting his shots (and/or video or sound, as he also works with multimedia). “It’s mentally exhausting,” he says, to produce work at the quality necessary to succeed at Agency VII and National Geographic. You’ve got to commit to your project — sometimes for years — and employ all your skills and concentration to realize your vision. “You’ve got to focus, focus, focus,” he says. “Find an area of passion, and then do whatever you need to do to complete your project. If it means raising money, figure out how to get the money. If it means gaining access, tap into your resources to get that access.”

After I left the workshop, I reflected on a project I worked on in 2010: Deer Creek to Columbine. I’ve never been satisfied with the completed project, but I care deeply about the topic. In 2010 a man entered a local Junior High School and shot two students. The school is close to our neighborhood and the students are peers of one of my sons. Coincidently, the school is just 2 1/4 miles from Columbine High School, site of another school shooting a decade earlier. In addition, in 2006 there was a 3rd school shooting in a high school just 30 miles away. Three school shootings in the span of 11 years — all within a close distance. What was going on?

My idea was to walk the 2 1/4 miles between the two schools, interviewing people along the way to see if anyone could make sense or draw any connections between these events. I interviewed a Deer Creek school administrator. I also interviewed the father of a Columbine student who was killed at that school.

The project faltered because no one in that journey wanted to discuss the Columbine or Deer Creek shootings. I trekked back and forth between the schools several times. I spoke with numerous people on route, but all declined to be interviewed. Doors shut; people turned away. I managed to get some interviews at the Columbine memorial (erected in memory of the 13 students killed at the school). I pulled together a piece — but it’s never seemed complete. All questions, no answers.

Based on Ed’s advice, I’ve decided to revisit this topic this year. I’m not sure exactly how I’ll frame the piece, because there is inherent ambiguity about these events and what, if anything, may connect them. But these events share one very obvious thing in common: guns. Guns — and especially gun control — is a raw topic (especially here in Colorado), but there it is. That’s the core of this situation, and I care about this situation.

Christopher Capozziello: The Distance Between Us

This is heavy, but interesting and well-crafted.

Christopher Capozziello, a photographer based in Connecticut, brings us a soundslide presentation about his brother who has cerebral palsy. Using his own voice as narrator, audio recordings of his brother’s voice, haunting B&W photographs, and some audio sound effects, Capozziello introduces us to his twin brother Nick. Capozziello also draws us into his own mind as he questions why someone has disease. The narrative is honest without being overly dramatic. The images provide enough drama – I think Capozziello has struck the right balance.

I particularly like the introduction of Nick’s voice: a question and answer. Wow – that introduces not just Nick but also his limitations and frustrations that Capozziello chronicles in this piece.