T.J. Kirkpatrick – Interview

Earlier, I posted a quick note about T.J. Kirkpatrick’s “Fly Away” short. Here’s the backstory.

Q1. How did you come up with this idea?
Kirkpatrick: I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind ever since seeing one of Richard Koci Hernandez’s “On the Road” pieces a couple years ago. He’s got a short section in that video where a cutout plane flies around his seat. So, it’s borrowed to a point, not unlike many other good ideas. I liked the thought of a plane breaking free from its confines, on a magazine page or pamphlet cover, and doing what planes are meant to do–to fly away. Going on to the flight I had an idea of finding a plane I could cut out easily, which happened to be from a magazine, and then just play around with where it went and what it encountered along the way. I’m a Monty Python fan and I like that oddball sense of humor, not to mention the stop action cut out sequences in the show itself, so that certainly helped inspire what happens in the course of the video. Everything was shot on a cross country flight between DC and Seattle last Christmas. It took the entire five hour flight to do everything, and I was actually shooting the last frames as we were preparing to land. That was probably the quickest cross-country flight I’ve ever taken.

Q2. Looks like you did props and took photos during a single flight — did you have this all planned out before boarding?
Kirkpatrick: Any props were found once I was on the plane. I had a small multi-tool on my keychain that looks like another key, but it opens up to a couple screwdrivers and tiny little knife blade (in case anyone is concerned about safety, this thing is really, really tiny: the blade is less than an inch long, and it’s all the size of an actual key. You stand a greater chance of being injured by the plastic spork that comes with a hot meal). That’s what I used to cut out the plane and everything else. I have a little bit of gaffer’s tape in all my bags (’cause you never know when you’ll need that stuff) and used it to help stick the plane to the back of the seat for those shots. There wasn’t much planning to do, since I was relying on finding a little plane I could cut out of an actual magazine on the flight. I had some ideas of what I wanted the plane to do–fly around the back of the seat, travel through the magazine itself, and ultimately fly away from the magazine. But I figured out the details as I was going along. I couldn’t have predicted getting a magazine with Shaun White to use as a monster, or an ad pitting a businessman against a sumo wrestler, but I was happy to discover them.

Q3. What equipment did you use? (Camera and software)
Kirkpatrick: Everything was shot with a Lumix LX5 (the camera that happened to be most accessible) and processed with Lightroom for basic toning, black and white conversion and output to a manageable file size. In all, there were about 500 images that went in to FCP to make the final video, though with some sections cut that total is probably closer to 350 or 400 in the final piece. Thinking back, my usual gear (Canon 5D mark II) probably would have been too cumbersome in the tight space of a coach seat to be of much use for this piece.

Q4. What’s the trick to successful time lapse photography?
Kirkpatrick: This is the first time lapse or stop motion piece I’ve brought to completion, so my advice is limited. There are some sections I wish I had shot more of, and I wish I had done a bit more planning for the transitions between sections. It might have been beneficial to have more photos for each of the sections, allowing the option for smoother motion, but I like the jumpiness of the final piece. I don’t think this piece would be improved with smoother motion, since the rest of it was done pretty roughly anyway. But the time lapse pieces that I find I like are pretty smooth, so this rough approach probably wouldn’t work so well again.

Q5. Do you find adding audio significantly adds to your work?
Kirkpatrick: Audio certainly can be beneficial to a project. Hearing the subject’s voice describing the story I’m trying to illustrate adds a very powerful layer to the storytelling. It’s allows for a very personal connection that is tough to achieve with just photos, and that helps me to convey a better story. I find it also helps me in the shooting process, because I have to be more focused to get good audio and more aware of where the story is going to be able to pair the audio with the photos or video that I’m gathering.
For this piece, the music sets the tone and does much of the heavy lifting for keeping that whimsical feeling going throughout the video. In essence, it does exactly what music can do in multimedia: directly influence the emotions of the viewer.

Q6. What type of equipment do you use? (Audio recording gear and software)
Kirkpatrick: I’ve used different gear for different projects, mostly depending on what I have available at the time. I’ve had a handful of little flash audio recorders, used some of the bigger Marantz gear, or just recorded with a mic straight into a 5D mark II (praying the whole time that the audio is actually useable). I’m in the market for a new recorder and I’ve liked the Marantz 661 that I’ve borrowed from friends a few times. As for software, I’ve used FCP and Soundtrack Pro for most projects, though neither of these are great for interview audio. In the past I’ve used Audacity, but lately I’ve been testing Hindenburg (http://hindenburgsystems.com/) and am liking how the software works.

Q7. I see some images in your stills section that area also incorporated in your multimedia slideshows. Do you shoot a project with the intention to images as both stand-alone items as well as parts of a larger project? Does working this way create any issues/problems?
Kirkpatrick: I work on projects as a whole, and the images that exist in both the still and multimedia sections on my site are the best images from a project that may have been developed as a multimedia piece. My hope would be that people see some of the still images, get curious and head over to the multimedia piece. Since a bulk of the assignment work that I do is solely still images, I need to have a representation of my projects in both a multimedia and still image gallery format. If an image, or a series, is good enough, I think it can certainly exist outside of the multimedia presentation. But beyond just happening to make good images, if I’m shooting a big project with a multimedia end in mind I still need to approach it like I would a story with no multimedia component. The multimedia side requires some more work and more material, but I still need to have the variety of images, key moments, and sense of vision that I would be trying to make for a project that consists of only still images. So, chances are I’m going to have work that I can present outside of the multimedia package. I’ve encountered problems in not doing enough work on the multimedia end, getting too caught up in the still photo side and neglecting to get enough b-roll audio or video, or shooting enough variety of still images to cover all the audio. And that goes back to what I mentioned earlier about just being aware of where the story is going to ensure you’re covered for stills as well as meeting any multimedia needs before you move on to the next part of a project.

Q8. Do you have any additional multimedia projects planned?
Kirkpatrick: I’m developing a multimedia project to go with the Tea Party work I started in 2011 (link: http://tjkphoto.com/#/Essays/Tea%20Party:%20the%20Movement/1/), and I’m creating some more of the fun little pieces like “Fly Away”.

Q9. Are you finding a lot of interest in multimedia work amongst your clients?
Kirkpatrick: I’ve been hired for a bit of multimedia and video work, but on the whole my clients are from the still photo world. What I find though is that my still photo clients are really interested in seeing the multimedia work that I do. It may just be a place to start a conversation about storytelling and some of my personal work, and it may be a spark for a new project or collaboration. Wherever the conversation goes, clients are always interested in seeing a project that goes beyond the still photos.

Comments

  1. Thank you John for finding TJ’s fly away. I never tire of watching this piece. It makes me happy – makes me laugh and all my troubles just fly away.

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