Interview with Lawyer/Producer Shannon Harvey-Fung, Esq. (LEGAL FOX Web Series)

LEGAL FOX played to rave reviews at the June 2018 Web Series Festival in Toronto. It was also the winner of BEST MUSIC at the festival.

Check out award-winning Legal Fox TV™
http://youtube.com/c/LegalFoxTV

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this web series?

Shannon Harvey-Fung: As a ‘logical lawyer’ – an arguably un-creative path – I wanted to combine my legal knowledge with something fun (and also tend to a gnawing creative spark.) Doing this in my provocative fashion was unconventional. Therefore, I initially had some hesitations. Then I remembered the words of my mother, who died young and unexpectedly, encouraging me to always do what’s in my heart and not be overly concerned about everyone’s perception. Armed with that wisdom I began to take proactive steps to ‘just do it’ and put out the first rendition of Legal Fox TV™

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make your first season?

About 18 months. I mulled over the idea for a while and first made very amateur web cam videos with just the law instruction/ narration portion. I then clicked with a professional Director /Producer that helped ‘give birth ‘ to the creative baby. After that I did several episodes spaced a few months apart each.

3. How would you describe your show in two words!?

Informative and provocative (provocative – both aesthetically and intellectually 😉

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing the episodes?

Getting caught up in seemingly minor details. As an attorney it is second nature to over-analyze. I tried not to do that with the ‘scripts’ or production of the videos. Nonetheless, the habit creeps in. When it did I would remember a ‘soothing’ statement by Voltair … “Perfect is the enemy of Good.” At a certain stage you simply have to know when it’s ready to go, despite the fact that there could always be one more tweak here or there.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Overall, pleasantly surprised. Even the initial comment was very poignant and addressed something that we can only hope all viewers can be evolved enough to realize ( i.e. to not ‘judge a book by its cover.’) As the comments progressed they had a similar theme.

My jaw did drop upon hearing it the final comment, loosely comparing the ‘host’ to Stormy Daniels – quite hilarious.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video of the Short Film:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this?

In my career I sometimes came across legal cases that appeared too crazy to be real. Also, I had an innate tendency to somehow make law witty and “sassy” (at least as was told to me by others. ha.) I very much enjoyed that aspect and began to make fun videos for selected friends and peers explaining otherwise mundane topics in an amusing way. Editors and a variety of other folks far more technically talented than me helped set the legal information to interesting visuals.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Legally Blonde. ha! So thrilled they’re coming out with #3.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I’m very happy that something like FilmFreeway exists. It’s a great aggregation tool and it’s very well organized.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

“Everything’s gonna be all alright” by Bob Marley. Brilliantly simple.

10. What is next for you? More episodes? Another series?

Definitely more episodes. The last episode of Season 2 is coming out next month and the topic is a super practical one. Stay tuned! Season 3 will then follow. I am also looking to grow or gain exposure for the media persona I’ve developed (“Legal Fox” – related to but created independent of the web series) by appearing in other networks and platforms and also obtain a demo reel as a Host and /or progressive legal correspondent.

legal_fox

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Filmmaker Gonzaga Manso (EDEN HOSTEL)

EDEN HOSTEL was the winner of BEST FILM at the January 2018 Comedy FEEDBACK Film Festival. 

Get to know the director of the film: 

  What motivated you to make this film?

I suppose it was loneliness . When I was 18 I wasn’t very sure about who I really was and often felt like I didn’t belong. In fact everything was OK, it was actually going better than what most teenagers could expect… and, nevertheless, I often felt lonely. Unconnected. Based on that feeling and on a conversation I had about the subject with my then-girlfriend, I wrote this short film.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

It took us approximately one year. I spent the first three months writing on my own and developing the idea, then we spent about two months preproducing it, 4 days shooting it and about 7 months post-producing it. The postproduction took us way too long because we didn’t have a proper budget and we had to ask for many favors… it was not the best workflow ever.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

I would do it badly. Just kidding, maybe: holy loneliness? I don’t know

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Actually it was a financial obstacle: finding the way to produce it with very little money.

What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

My initial reaction was to smile like a child. I enjoyed so much watching the different points of view about the short film and its characters. It was an amazing experience to see all those people talking and reflecting about our shortfilm. I loved it. Thank you so much. I always learn a lot about my own film when I talk to the audience.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Fight club

You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the new(ish) submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

Actually, Ismael Martin and his team handle the distribution of our short film, so we didn’t get to do this ourselves.

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

No idea, I’m always switching between different genres.
I played on a rock band for 10 years, so probably one of our earliest songs… we were rehearsing them nonstop for years.

What is next for you? A new film?

I’m a photographer too, and right now we are developing a new series of photographies. We also have a second short-film, Fortune-teller, which I hope Ismael has submitted to your festival, or will do so when you open for submissions. We are also starting to write the script of a feature length film, that project really excites me.

 

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Interview with the Filmmaking team of the short film WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN

WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN was awarded BEST FILM at the March 2017 Comedy Short Film Festival in Toronto.

The filmmaking team was nice enough to answer some questions for us.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Hans Lucas (Producer): The opportunity to produce a film for an award winning and Scottish BAFTA nominated writer and director team and further develop an established professional relationship.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

Hans: Production took almost one year. The early stages were lightning quick but due to Pinewood Studios’ other commitments we had to remain patient when it came to designing and mixing the soundtrack.

How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Hans: Elegant. Parody.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Charlie Francis (Director): The flat we filmed in was three storeys up. Ideally our DOP Mark Boggis would have preferred something on the ground-floor, as it’s easier to control the daylight coming in by setting up screens or lights outside. We also couldn’t go wild with dressing the flat, and as such there are maybe one or two bare walls which production designer Jo Brunwin would liked to have covered, but we couldn’t hang anything on them.

Time is money and we had no money. Our actors came in very well prepared after only one rehearsal, and the whole crew were true pros. The extreme generosity from several areas helped make the film possible; Scottish Screenwriters helped cover essential food and travel costs; a local hotel gave us use of two rooms for filming for a day; we were given a huge discount on renting camera gear; and a very, very understanding boyfriend.

What were your initial reactions when watching the Toronto audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

Katie White (Writer): We have been extremely lucky to have this, and our previous film, travelling to festivals around the globe, but unless we attend the festivals we don’t really get audience feedback. So for me, I felt absolutely delighted and such pride that team WAMLAW’s work was so well received. If I could send everyone in Toronto who said such fantastic, constructive comments – including the host – a thank you card, I would. But since I can’t, I’m sending our gratitude and much Scottish love from the whole team!

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

Katie: I woke up, or maybe I was still awake at 6.30am, the morning after we had won Best British Short Film at the Iris Prize Festival, with our film Middle Man, and we had a £14.000 post production at Pinewood Studio award to use so we needed a new script asap. Two ideas wandered into my head; WAMLAW was one of them. (The second one is about to start its crowd-funding.) I read out my notes from my phone to Charlie the director, in the car on the long drive from Wales to Scotland, and he just turned to me and said, “Write that fucking script!” So I did….

What film have you seen the most in your life?

Katie: Field of Dreams – kinda apt since we as a team keep trying to build our films in the hope of ‘they’ coming along and financing our features.

Hans: The Empire Strikes Back

Charlie: Star Wars Episode 5

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Charlie: Probably ‘New Gold Dream’

What is next for you? A new film?

Another LGBT short drama, feature plans (non-LGBT), plus a pile of shorts we’d love to all make.

Interview with 1st AD John McKeown (50/50, Albert Nobbs)

The role of an Assistant Director – 1st AD on a film includes tracking daily progress against the filming production schedule, arranging logistics, preparing daily call sheets, checking cast and crew, and maintaining order on the set. 

John McKeown has worked in the AD department, mainly as a 1st AD, on over 40+ productions in the last 20 years. He is a fountain of knowledge, which is evident when reading this interview.

jack_1stad.jpgInterview with John McKeown:

Matthew Toffolo: In your 20+ year career, do you have a favorite and/or memorable experience?

John McKeown: Those 20+ years went by in a flash!

I’ve seen a lot of sunrises and sunsets around the world and I have my job to thank for that.

Shooting in India was a truly memorable experience. It’s a place I hope to return to.

I’ve been lucky enough to work on action movies, dramas, comedies and most things in between.

Traveling to distant countries, seeing behind the scenes of cities, places and other peoples lives is a real privilege.

When I really think about it the thing that I value the most is the people I’ve worked with, both in front of and behind the camera. Most of my closest friends are people I have worked with. Spending your working life surrounded by people who are enthusiastic and talented is a real blessing and not to be taken for granted.

MT: In a typical Hollywood production, how many weeks before shooting does the 1st AD come aboard the film?

JMK: It varies. Depending on the project the AD can be in prep for many months or as little as 3 weeks.

I usually start a couple of weeks after the director and a week or two before the DP.

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MT: When setting the schedule for the production, what is the fine line between what is most logical and cost saving to what schedule has the best chance to make the best film?

Knowing when you can economize on a given scene or shooting day in order to allocate more resources to another part of the script is what the schedule is all about.

Achieving that delicate balance is the skill of a good AD. Talking to the director about what is vital to their story telling process and what they are most passionate about is the starting point of prep for me.

Working closely with the director and producers to bridge the gap that sometimes exists is a big part of the AD’s job.

I want to go into day one of shooting with a schedule that the director, the producers and I agree gives us the best opportunity to enter post production feeling great about what we got during the shoot.

MT: What are the key qualities to being a great 1st AD?

JMK: You’d have to ask one!

I can tell you that the qualities I look for in a 2nd AD apply to the 1st AD as well.

– A calm unflappable personality under extreme pressure
– Real attention to detail
– The ability to plan ahead and think on your feet if the plan falls apart
– The grit to do a great job when they are sick / exhausted / just had their car stolen / got yelled at by someone above the line or any number of other things that would put a regular person off their game
– Sense of humor – essential!

MT: How does the 1st AD gain the respect of the crew on the first day to set the tone of the production?

JMK: I try to set the tone during prep and at the production meeting.

I treat everyone with respect and I expect them to do the same.

On the first day at the safety meeting I make it clear that we are a team, that everyone needs to play their part and that I am always available to any member of the crew who needs me.

I make the assumption that they are there to do the best job they can.

In the rare case that we hit a speed bump because someone either can’t or won’t deliver what is expected of them I try to resolve the situation in private away from the set.

MT: Is there is a key difference when you’re a 1st AD on productions of an action film in comparison to a drama?

JMK: In large action sequences it is much more about logistics, safety and planning with the stunt team and special FX crew.

Often the angles are story boarded and detailed shot lists are created and then scheduled.

Running the set is always about making sure that everyone knows what’s happening right now and then what is happening next up.

It’s never more essential than when shooting potentially dangerous action.

Drama is a different discipline. Creating the right environment on the set for the cast to work with the director is the top priority.

Dramatic scenes can seem simple – two people in a room? What could go wrong? A surprising amount!

I try to remove all of the distractions from the set so that the director can work with the cast and get the best performances.

A combination of intense drama and extreme stunts? That’s when it gets really interesting!

MT: If the day or entire schedule goes into overtime, does the 1st AD carry the most blame?

JMK: Only if he/she is the cause of the overtime!

There is a lot the AD can do to make sure that things run efficiently.

Proper planning in prep is essential (The 3 Ps!).

Having a plan B, C and on some days plan D is also something an experienced AD is used to.

All that being said there are some things that you can never predict. Weather can be forecast but change in a moment, a cast or crew member can have a bad day for any number of reasons, equipment can fail etc.

My personal rule is this.

If something happens (however unlikely it was to occur) that I could in any way have expected, predicted or prevented then I carry the blame. If there was no way to know ahead of time that disaster would strike then I accept the new deal and do everything I can to move past it and get us back on track – the expression “It’s not my fault but it is my problem” comes into play here. The trick is knowing the difference!

MT: What is a director mostly looking for in a 1st AD?

JMK: Very much depends on the director.

Some want a drill sergeant, some want a very low profile AD. Most want a combination of skills and experience that the AD can bring to the ever changing circumstances on a set.

I always talk to a director when we first meet and ask them how they like the set to run. In my experience a good AD is really a chameleon, drill sergeant, advisor, morale booster on the tough days. Most of all I think the AD is there to get whatever the director sees in their head onto the screen.

jack1stad3.jpgMT: What is a 1st AD mainly looking for in a director?

JMK: For me it’s collaboration.

The best experiences I have had are when the director the DP and the AD are all in sync and pulling for the same goal.

Sometimes the director and the DP are a creative team and see the AD and indeed “production” as a barrier to getting their vision made.

This is really unfortunate but it is understandable.

A director I love once told me that he came to work everyday with a “bucket of diamonds” that were his ideas for how to shoot that days work. He told me that at the end of the day if all his diamonds had been lost (killed by production in his view) and all he had left was the handle of the bucket he considered that a good day!

The best directors include all the key departments in the plan and the end result is always better. I think the secret to success is to hire smart motivated people in the key crew positions and then let them really do what they are best at.
As a director you have the final say as to whether an idea brought to you is in the movie but having a whole team of talented people offer up ideas is a gold mine of opportunities.

MT: Did you have a 1st AD mentor?

JMK: I was lucky enough to have two. Nael Abbas & Jon Older. Both top AD’s in the UK and the two people who put me on the right path at the start of my career.

Nael gave me my first break and got me into TV. I worked as a PA and then 2nd 2nd for both Nael & Jon.

I moved my way up to 2nd AD working for both of them on multiple projects. Jon Older gave me my very first job as a 1st AD. He was moving up to direct and asked me to run the set for him. I’m very grateful to them both.

MT: Besides the films you’ve worked on, what movie have you seen the most in your life?

JMK: Jaws. I pray they never remake it as it is the perfect film.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

LENSES & FILTERS. How to get the best shots in filmmaking

LENSES & FILTERS
FILMMAKING NOTES

Cinematography is the art of manipulating light and shadow, and capturing it as a moving image.

CINEMATOGRAPHY – SHOTS AND CAMERA ANGLES

QUESTIONS TO ASK:
-What is the best viewpoint for filming this position of the event?
-How much area should be included in this shot?

SCENE defines the place or setting where the action is laid
SHOT defines a continuous view filmed by one camera without
interruption

SEQUENCE A series of scenes or shots complete in itself.

TYPES OF CAMERA ANGLES
OBJECTIVE – The audience point of view
SUBJECTIVE – The camera acts as the viewers eyes-movement
POINT OF VIEW – What the character is seeing

CAMERA ANGLES – Are the most important factor in producing illusion of scenic depth. Which angle the object is photographed.

FIVE BASIC ANGLES

EYE LEVEL SHOTS – Provide frames or reference. Audiences sees the event as if in the scene. Most scenes in movies are photographed from eye level. 5 to 6 feet off the ground. Capturing the clearest view of an object.
-Treating your characters as equals. Discourages viewers at judging them and permits audience to make up their own minds.

BIRDS EYE VIEW – Photographing a scene from DIRECTLY OVERHEAD. Hovers from above like all powerful gods. Idea of fate.

HIGH ANGLED SHOTS – Camera is tilted downward. Movement is slowed down. A person seems harmless and insignificant photographed from above.
– The higher the angle, the more it tends to imply fatality

-Heightens the importance of a subject. Scenes depicting heroism

OBLIQUE ANGLE – Lateral tilt of the camera. As though the object is about to fall to one side. POINT OF VIEW SHOTS.
-Suggests tensions, transitions, impending movement
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE RIGHT – Acting forceful
IMAGE THAT SLANTS TO THE LEFT – Weak, static

ASK YOURSELF
-How much should be included in this shot?
-Where should the camera be positioned to view this particular part of the action?
A shot should be held no longer than required to make its point.

Approach each sequence with a fresh attitude and strive to treat the action in an individual matter.

A definite change in camera angles will assure a smoother flow of images.

“And later I thought, I can’t think how anyone can become a director without learning the craft of cinematography.”
– Nicolas Roeg

SIX BASIC SHOTS

1) Extreme Long Shot – Taken at a great distance. Almost always an exterior shot and shows much of the locale. Establishing shots usually
2) Long Shot – The distance between the audience and the stage in the live theater
3) Full Shot – Barely including the whole body
4) Medium Shot – Knees to waste up. Useful for exposition scenes, carrying movement and for dialogue
5) Close-Up – Concentrates on a relatively small object. HUMAN FACE
6) Extreme Close-Up – Might just show eyes or mouth

CLOSEUPS
-Are among the most powerful storytelling devices available to the filmmaker
-Allows removal of tedious or repetitious action
-Can be used to provide a time lapse
-Bring that dramatic punch

FRAMES
-Area near the top of the frame can suggest ideas dealing with power, authority and aspiration
-Left and right edges of the frame can suggest insignificance

DOMINANT CONTRAST – Area that immediately attracts our attention because of a conspicuous and compelling contrast

SUBSIDARY CONTRAST – Structured image so that specific images are followed in sequence. Whatever character or object that is most dramatically important will assume dominance.

The HUMAN EYE scans pictures from left to right

HORIZONTAL LINES – Move from left to right
VERTICAL LINES – Move from top to bottom
DIAGONAL OR OBLIQUE LINES tend to sweep upward
TERRITORIAL SPACE – movie images must tell a story in time. A story that involves human beings and their problems.
THREE VISUAL PLACES – MIDGROUND, FOREGROUND, BACKGROUND

SPACE is one of the principal mediums of communication in film

Dominant characters are almost always given more space to occupy than others are.

You can define, adjust and redefine human relationships by exploiting spatial conventions

ACTOR CAN BE PHOTOGRAPHED IN FIVE BASIC POSITIONS
1) Full Front – Facing the camera
2) Quarter turn
3) PROFILE – looking off frame, left to right
4) Three quarter turn
5) Back to Camera

FULL FRONT – Most intimate, vulnerabilities exposed-Audience agrees to become their chosen confidante.

QUARTER TURN – Involves a high degree of intimacy but with less emotional involvements

PROFILE – More remote.
-Character lost in their own thoughts.

THREE QUARTER TURN – More anonymous. Rejecting audiences

BACK TO CAMERA – Characters alienation from the world. Sense of concealment, mystery.

TIGHTLY FRAMED SHOTS – Confined

LOOSLY FRAMED SHOTS – Freedom

PROXEMIC PATTERNS – Climax, noise level and the degree of light all tend to alter the space between individuals

1) INTIMATE – Eighteen inches away. Distance of LOVE, COMFORT, TENDERNESS between individuals

2) PERSONAL – Eighteen inches to about four feet away. Reserved for friends and acquaintances

3) SOCIAL – Four feet to about twelve feet away. Business and casual social gatherings

4) PUBLIC – Twelve to about twenty feet away.

ANALYSIS OF ANY GIVEN SHOT – TWELVE ELEMENTS

1) SHOT AND CAMERA PROXEMICS
-What type of shot is it? How far away from the action is the camera?

2) ANGLE
-Are we looking up or down on the subject, or is the camera neutral?

3) LENS and/or FILTER
-How do these distort or comment on the photographed materials?

4) LIGHTING STYLE
-High or low key lighting? High contrast? Some combination of these?

5) DOMINANT
-Where is our eye attracted first?

6) SUBSIDIARIES
-Where does our eye travel after taking in the dominant?

7) COMPOSITION
-How is the two-dimensional space segmented and organized? What is the underlying design?

8) FORM
-Open or closed? Does the image suggest a window that arbitrarily isolates a fragment of the scene? How are the visual elements carefully arranged and held in balance?

9) FRAMING
-Tight or loose? Do the characters have room to move around in, or can they move freely?

10) DEPTH
-On how many planes is the image composed? What do we see in the background?

11) STAGING PROBLEMS
-Which way do the characters look from the camera?

12) CHARACTER PROXEMICS
-How much space is there between the characters?

MOVEMENT IS NOT SIMPLY A MATTER OF WHAT HAPPENS, BUT HOW THINGS HAPPEN.

The OBSERVER has to be the CAMERA and it needs to know where it s going.

THE VALUE OF A SHOT ALWAYS DEPENDS ON A NARRATIVE.

” You make the movie through the cinematography – it sounds quite a simple idea, but it was like a huge revelation to me.”
– Nicolas Roeg

THE PRINCIPLES OF PERSPECTIVE

-Finding the right points of the sequence and getting to tell the best narrative story

AESTHETIC DISTANCE – Phrase used to describe the degree to which a work or art manipulates the viewer

FIRST PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Sees events through the eyes of the character

THIRD PERSON POINT OF VIEW – Presents action as seen by an ideal observer

OMNISCIENT POINT OF VIEW – Having to know what the character is thinking. Requires a type of narration, voice-over or graphics

PAN SHOT, Used to:
-Include space greater than can be viewed through a fixed frame
-Follow action as it moves
-Connect two or more points of interest graphically
-Connect of imply a logical connection between two or more subjects

“Cinematography is infinite in its possibilities… much more so than music or language.
– Conrad Hall

CRANE SHOT
-Inherently majestic and holds our interest regardless of the subject because of the sheer physical pleasure of the move
-Permits us to feel the dimensions of the world by penetrating space, further endorsing its reality through the illusion of depth
-Eats up time on the set
-Careful planning and preparation is vital

TRACKING SHOT
-Used to follow a subject or explore space
-A dolly moves towards a subjects face can be used to emphasize a character’s moment of realization. A dolly always tends to isolate the subject as well

TRIPOD SHOTS
-Usually is used only in stable and relatively predictable shooting situations
-Makes very controlled transitions from subject to subject possible
-Makes very controlled image transitions possible
-Makes stable close-ups possible at the telephoto end of the zoom lens
-Conveys the cool, assured view

HANDHELD SHOTS
-Can react to events, much as we do in life
-Implies a spontaneous event driven quest
-Conveys a subjective, even vulnerable point of view

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Submit your Film, Screenplay, Novel, Story, or Poem anytime to the festival today: http://www.wildsound.ca

Watch recent Writing Festival Videos. At least 15 winning videos a month:http://www.wildsoundfestival.com

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Cinematographer Chad Griepentrog (The Bachelor Reality TV Series)

It was a blast sitting down with the Director of the Photographer of the hottest show on television: “The Bachelor”. Chad Griepentrog reveals a lot of funny behind the scenes moments, including shooting in the “fantasy suites” and trying to hold back his laughter with his fellow camera-operators so the shot isn’t ruined. Shooting reality television is a very difficult job. Enjoy the interview: 

Matthew Toffolo: What is your job as the cinematographer on a Reality TV Show set? From being in studio to on location?

Chad Griepentrog: My job is to basically try to make chaos look as good as possible without slowing down the production schedule or disrupting the cast. For the most part, reality shows are produced fast and cheap. Every shoot day is packed with locations and content that must be captured. The story is created through the actions of the cast members, so the mentality is to “shoot everything and the story will expose itself”. There can be several camera operators on the set at one time, in which case I’d be in charge of making sure everyone has the same camera settings, filters etc. The DP is also the sounding board for the camera department. The director or producers can come straight to me with questions or requests. If a show allows for lighting and art setups (like The Bachelor), I’ll get to scout locations before we start the season. During the scouts, I’ll make note of what looks best and at what time of day, the power available at that location, the limitations for gear load in, what we need to bring in as far as furniture or set dressing, what lights we will be needing and how to rig them, what we need as far as generators or big lifts for lighting, what camera extras we can employ (long lenses, GoPros, sliders, slow motion, etc.) and so on. On the day of the shoot, I’ll need to light areas for the cast depending on what the activities are. Usually it’s nighttime parties or romantic dates. Since content is king, I have to “walk away” once cast arrives. This means that once the cast sits in, I cant stop everything to run in and adjust a light or move a fork on the table that’s reflecting into someone’s eyes. You also have to light and dress for wide shots and close-ups at the same time. Oftentimes, the cameras will need to see 360 degrees, so there’s nowhere to hide anything like light stands or grip gear. It’s challenging for sure. And time is always a huge hurdle. There’s never enough! We always set up in broad daylight and the cast arrives right around sunset or soon after. This means that you have to prepare everything as best you can during the day, and once it gets dark, do the final touches and set levels as fast as humanly possible. Also, these are real people- not actors. The cast has to feel at ease- you can’t blast them with bright lights. They can’t possibly fall in love with one another with a camera operator breathing down their necks. So besides dressing and lighting in a way that lets the cast feel at ease, we play further back and wear dark clothes and keep equipment tucked away. You have to plan on people not landing where you want them to, or sitting super awkward and not falling into the proper lighting. Of course, I don’t do this all on my own. I work closely with the set dressers from the art department and the gaffer from the electrical department. Collaboration is the name of the game in TV and film.

PHOTO: The Bachelorette and her men inside the mansion:

the_bachelor_art_direction.jpg

Every show is a little bit different in what they ask of the DP. Most shows will have the DP shoot a little, but spend the majority of his/her time working on lighting or setting up scenes, or even doing B roll. -While oftentimes the smaller, lower budget shows might have the DP shooting everything. I’ve DP’d episodes of “Intervention” where I’m literally shooting all day. My job at that point falls into getting the best coverage I can to best tell the story and to give the editors the shots they need to cut together a story. It’s all about being flexible and telling the story with what you have- i.e. available light.

Matthew: You started off an a camera assistant on Fear Factor 15 years ago and have moved all the way up to being the cinematographer on one of the most popular television shows today in The Bachelor. What is the bigget thing you’ve learned climbing up the ladder of success?

Chad: Even before AC-ing, I started a couple years prior as an extra (background actor), then found a few jobs as a production assistant on super low budget movies…so I started at the very bottom. The biggest thing I’ve learned since getting into the business is the importance of having a good attitude. Having a successful career in this industry is extremely rewarding, but not easily attained. You’ll work insane hours for low pay, eat awful food, take direction from people who sometimes have no idea what they’re doing, you’ll work in horrible locations, sleep in terrifying places, miss holidays and family functions and so on. But if you can do all of this with a smile on your face, directors, producers and production managers will notice. Good attitudes are contagious to other crew members. Good attitudes will help you through the “dry spells”, where there doesn’t seem to be any work at all out there. Good attitudes will help you build a network and enable you to get on the jobs you’re most interested in working. Also, the ability to get along with others is extremely important. There’s always someone better than you, so having a chip on your shoulder doesn’t do you any good. Be humble. Let people do their jobs and respect them and their departments. Everyone is here for the same reason- because none of us could survive in an office!

Matthew: What is the craziest or zaniness show you’ve work on?

Chad: I’d have to say it was “The Joe Schmo Show”. That was insane! If you haven’t seen it, it’s a show where every cast member is actually an actor or actress and there’s only one “real” person, who has no idea what’s going on. Basically, it’s an entire show where the same person is being punked the whole time. It was hilarious and so over the top. You learn a lot about people while shooting “reality”. But every show is a little nuts if you think about it. The very first day of Fear Factor had people eating sheep eyeballs in a barn in front of live sheep! We broke for lunch right after and Joe Rogan was behind me in line and said “well, it’s been fun- but this show’s not going anywhere”. It ended up being the biggest show on NBC! Or Survivor, where people would starve until the day where they had a food auction. People were eating chocolate Sundays and cheeseburgers after existing on rice for a month. Right after, they all puked and had diarrhea about 10 feet away. Or on “Superstar USA”, where there was a singing competition, but the judges led on the worst singers to think they were the best. And so on…

PHOTO: The Joe Schmo TV Show:

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Matthew: Do the reality stars eventually forget that the camera is even there, or are most always aware that someone is recording them?

Chad: Usually- or let’s just say they get comfortable with them. Even more, they forget about the microphones they wear. Just look at the documentary “The Jinx”, where Robert Durst slipped up and confessed to the murders while he was alone in the bathroom- but still mic’d. But people do forget about the cameras. Sometimes it takes a while. It helps when the cast and crew don’t interact. People seem to be more distracted by the operator than the camera. On some shows it’s forbidden for camera operators to talk to the cast at all- we are invisible. There are also tricks we do to lead people to believe that we’re not filming. We know a lot of those, but it’s a secret!

Matthew: How many camera operators are there on a typical day on set for The Bachelor? How many hours of video is logged each day typically?

Chad: On “Bachelor”/ “Bachelorette” the number of crews dwindle as does the cast throughout the season. Night one (when the limos pull up and all the cast members are revealed, then go in for the big party) has 16 operators- that’s 16 camera operators who are working at least 12 hours- shooting possibly 10 hours of footage….that’s 160 hours of footage! By the end of the show, some 7 or so weeks later, there will be roughly 6 crews. Each crew consists of an operator, a camera assistant and an audio mixer.

PHOTO: The Bachelor Hot Tub Scene:

bachelor_hot_tub_scenes.jpg

Matthew: How is the setup for each camera operator? Do you work in a control room and guide the shooting while each camera operator has a runner/assistant with them?

Chad: Typically with that many cameras there has to be someone in charge, whether it be a house director, field director or competition director. Camera operators all get to know “the dance”. Basically, if there’s more than one operator shooting a scene, they will choose a “line”- referring to the 180 degree rule. That way, the eye line of every cast member will be going the correct direction and therefore easily editable. The operators spread out and cross shoot without going across the line. The operators signal to one another with hand gestures or over the walkies who has what shot (single, two shot, wide, etc.). That way everyone can make sure that they’re covering the scene without missing anything or replicating another’s shot. The director helps by alerting the operators of upcoming changes (someone new entering, who’s reaction to focus on, etc.) or they’ll help block out things like car pull-ups & exits, host or special guests talking to groups, etc.

Matthew: If The Bachelor goes on a group date for example with 10 other girls, how many times do you break to do the interviews during a typical date? How fast are you able to set up the interview spots when you’re on location somewhere?

Chad: During a group date, the interviews can happen at any time. Interviews are crucial to just about every reality show. They are the backbone of reality storytelling. Even when you think a scene speaks for itself, they’ll cut into an interview to hear what someone (whether in the scene or not) thought about what happened. Usually you want the interviews to take place immediately after something interesting happens so it’s fresh in the people’s minds and they’re still emotional about it. Before a group date starts, we’ll set up 2 or 3 interview spots. These are always in close proximity to the “hub” of the party, yet private and quiet. The interviews usually end up being in tiny hotel rooms with awful white walls that we curse while setting up. Sometimes you’ll se more immediate and less “set up” looking interviews. This is called “on the fly” or OTF. In this situation, there’s usually someone crying or very emotional in some other way and there’s no time to take them to a room and set them down. In these cases, you’ll be lucky to get a tripod and a light.

Matthew: Do you have a favorite behind the scenes Bachelor moment? Something the crazed fans would love to hear?

Chad: I’ve had so many over the years. Most include something related to the cool locations we get to visit- like animals attacking our gear in Africa, or scaring the crap out of each other in a dungeon in Prague. Or the time I was bucked off a horse and broke my hand because we thought it would be a good idea to shoot on horseback, or jumping off waterfalls with the cast in Hawaii, or getting stuck on a glacier in Iceland, or the scouts where we get to do all the things the cast does, but a week earlier. My favorite though is when I flew over my tiny hometown in Colorado in the Playboy private jet with only a producer, Hugh Hefner and his Playmate girlfriends. I wish my high school guidance counselor could see me then! One time I ordered pizza and hot wings for my crew. We were so hungry and excited to eat, but had to wait until after the interview we were shooting. During that time, one of the female Bachelor cast members ate our entire pizza and wings! Then she purged! Thanks a lot lady!

It’s always fun to try to make other operators laugh while shooting. There have been so many times where 2 cast members are in the “fantasy suite” laying on the bed, kissing and giggling and whispering sweet nothings- while I’m literally a foot from them and there’s another camera operator on the other side of the bed. A couple funny looks can lead to some pretty epic laugh attacks (but you have to hold it in so the cast doesn’t hear).

PHOTO: The Bachelor Fantasy Suite:

bachelor_fantasy_suite.jpg

Matthew: How has the technology changed since you started? Are the cameras easier to handle than in the past?

Chad: The technology has changed immensely. When I started everything was standard definition. I spent a couple years as a tech assistant and as a “mini cams” guy, where to do a simple helmet cam required a ton of gear- batteries, cables, recording decks, more batteries, cameras with dip switches for controls, padding for the recording decks, and if you wanted it waterproof….. Anyway, that’s all been replaced by GoPros, which are incredible in every way. Drones are another game changer. Many of the newer cameras have better images, but are much more difficult to operate. These would be the DSLR’s, Canon C 300’s & 500’s, Black magics, REDs, F5’s and F55’s, etc. By the time you have all the rods, focusing knobs, monitors, audio adaptors and cables in place, the cameras are 3x the size and make zero sense ergonomically. If you’re going to be operating for hours on end, you want to have everything at your fingertips. The Sony F800’s are the easiest, most reliable cameras for reality in my opinion. And for larger sensors, I prefer the Arri Amiras. They look incredible and are easy to operate. It’s crazy that our phones now take better videos than broadcast cameras just a few years ago. I’ve seen cameras produce better images for less and less money. Now literally anyone can shoot their own film. You no longer need a 35mm film camera, money for film stock or a grip and electric truck full of expensive lights.

Matthew: What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Chad: American Movie. It’s a documentary about a guy who is struggling to finish his short film. The movie is shot very simply but tells a great story and the characters in it are hilarious. Definitely worth the watch.

Matthew: Our of all the reality shows you’ve worked on, do you have a favorite or two?

Chad: Survivor and The Bachelor come to mind first. Survivor season 3 (Kenya) was my first legitimate travel show. I couldn’t believe that someone was paying me to spend 2 months on a private game reserve with a crew of a couple hundred super cool people from all over the world. Every day was like being on safari, but no tourists. Survivor Palau was incredible as well. Surfing and diving just about every day, let alone working in only board shorts on white sandy beaches. The Bachelor shows are amazing as well because we travel all over the place and get access to places that normal people can’t- like being the only ones in the Tower of London at night, or on the roof of the space needle- not just the top, or sports fields, castles, etc. One season of the Bachelorette, we spent time in Iceland, Portugal and Tahiti all in one season! What makes this show amazing are the people you work with side by side on a daily basis. It’s crazy how close you get with co-workers. In a couple months you might spend more time with your camera assistant than you did with any of your best friends from high school. On location, you see such amazing places and after a long day, you go out with the same people and explore the cities, then you fly together to a new place, then on your days off, you might surf or golf or dive or zipline with the same people. I can’t say enough about the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have along the way. I feel like I haven’t “worked” in years. It’s not for everyone, but if you love adventure, it’s the best.

Matthew: What suggestions do you have for high school or university students who would like to be reality show camera operators?

Chad: I would say try to reach out to people in the field who you may know or even a family friend’s friend’s uncle’s neighbor. Email production companies to see if they’re looking for production assistants or interns. If you like a specific show, go on IMDB and look up the production company that produces it, or even the name of the production manager. Find them on facebook if you have to. It’s never been easier to get into this field. There are about a million reality shows out now. When I started there was one. There are websites like “staff me up” that list job postings. Maybe see if you can intern at a rental house- learn the gear inside and out first and meet cinematographers who are picking up gear. Like they say, it’s who you know that gets you the job, but what you know that lets you keep it . Also, you don’t have to live in LA. A lot of people work full time in Atlanta, New York, Miami, etc. Film school is good- but not 100% necessary. I studied film, but only truly “learned” by being on set. You can learn a lot on the web. Youtube. Forums. Look up hurlbutvisuals.com. If you work hard and keep a good attitude, you can get on those shows that interest you. If you want to shoot in Alaska or the swamps of Louisiana or film midgets in Utah, there’s a show for you. It may take a few years before you get a job as a camera assistant or operator, but be persistent. When I was a production assistant picking up trash on set, I’d talk to people from the different departments and learn about their jobs and ask a lot of questions. It wasn’t long before people would start asking if I could give them a hand on the next project. Be flexible and don’t give up!

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Music Editor/Composer John M. Davis (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies)

The music editor is a type of sound editor in film responsible for compiling, editing, and syncing music during the production of a soundtrack. Among the music editor’s roles is creating a “temp track”, which is a “mock-up” of the film’s soundtrack using pre-existing elements to use for editing, audience previews, and other purposes while the film’s commissioned score is being composed.

John M. Davis is one of the most talented people I have had the pleasure to interview. Just go to this website http://www.johnmdavis.com and explore his world of music.

Matthew Toffolo: I love the photo of you on your website. It describes who you are in one picture. Composing attire. The dog you obviously love. Cup of coffee. Piano. A rocking chair for thinking. Art Work. And a relaxed but determined look on your face. As they say, a picture says a 1000 words, or in your case a 1,000,000 words! 

John M. Davis: I’m glad you like it.  I don’t photograph particularly well, so I find all the accoutrements more interesting than me.  I do like that piano; it’s a 1954 Steinway we inherited from my wife’s grandfather.  The dog is a whole Russian novel in himself.

Matthew: From an outside perspective, it seems like you’ve mastered the balance of working on your pet projects while being a successful Music Editor for Hollywood productions. How does one do it? 

John: I wish I knew.  I like the camaraderie and diversity of different projects.  I would like more jobs as a composer, but composers don’t have a union while music editors do, with pension and health insurance.  If I only composed for the small films and documentaries that I do then I couldn’t support a family.  I love playing live music for silent films, but only a handful of humans on the planet can make a living doing that.  When I retire from music editing I’m planning on composing large scale works for orchestra.  Whether anybody wants me to do that is an open question.

Matthew: Do you have a musical mentor? 

John: Not really.  Music is something I’ve always done.  I was arranging for bands and choirs from junior high on.  I went to NYU film school with the intention of becoming a director or screenwriter, but over time I discovered that my musical abilities were more unique and more marketable.

Matthew: Out of all your personal projects, what are you most proud of? And what would you love to share to our audience? 

John: Next Saturday I’m performing a live score with a quartet to the 1929 Dziga Vertov documentary “The Man With a Movie Camera” at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. I’m very proud of my performances at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy.  Early filmmakers saw cinema as the synthesis and apotheosis of all the arts, and live silent film music is the purest manifestation of music to picture.  Everything else we do — recording, editing, mixing under dialogue — is all a diminution of that ideal.

Matthew: Out of all your Music Editor work, what film was your best working experience? 

John: Working on a musical is the best.  “Black Nativity” was a film that almost no one saw, but I was on the set every day during the shoot, and I was involved in the entire post-production.  Nothing is better than having Jennifer Hudson in a church singing her heart out, capturing her live performance and using that in the final mix.  There were a lot of technical challenges involving playback, using earwigs (tiny radio controlled ear pieces), microphones hidden in her hair.  Then there was the tap dancing, the modern dance, choirs, the works! “The Producers” was also fun, especially when we could use the singing recorded on set and not the pre-records.

Matthew: What is the difference, if any, between working on a narrative film compared to working on a documentary? 

John: Some documentaries are very narrative, so you might score a montage the same way in either format.  A very dry talking heads type of documentary usually doesn’t support much music.  Some of the greatest scores of all time were written for documentaries.

Matthew: How do you choose your jobs? From working on short films to doing (more) paid work? It is all about the story? 

John: The more important consideration is the people you’re working with.  That said, in my experience the jobs choose you.  My phone rings just enough to keep me working throughout the year.  If I hit a dry spell it doesn’t last too long.  A few years ago when “Flight of the Conchords” was shooting in New York I thought “this is the perfect project for me!”  Unfortunately I had no idea how to get hired on it.<

Matthew: Ideally, where would you like your career to go in the next 5 years? More passion projects? More sound designing? Working on bigger productions? 

John: I would like to have composing be a more regular part of my work.  Right now it seems like it’s about 15% to 20% instead of 50%.  However, part of that is preconceptions.  If people see you as a music editor then they don’t think of you as a composer.

Matthew: What are the key qualities to be a great music editor? 

John: Surprisingly it’s not musicianship.  Being a musician is a help, but some of the more mad-scientist musicians I know would be terrible music editors.  The main requirement is being organized.  You have to keep track of the music, know which version is where, know how to fill out a cue sheet.  If you’re a musician who keeps their hard drive very tidy and doesn’t have a lot of files on your desktop, then you could be a music editor.  It goes without saying that you have to be able to cut on the beat, and you have to know something about musical structure.  You also have to get along with the director and the composer.

Matthew: What film, besides the ones you’ve work on, have you seen the most in your life? 

John: I’ll say “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  That’s the only film poster I have in my studio.  John Williams has said that it is his favorite score, and I can see why.  The music is the means of communication between worlds.  It goes from drama to action to the most modernist and atonal to romantic, and the story is more ambitious and multi-continent expansive than almost any film before or since.

Matthew: What is your favorite era in music history? 

John: Despite my love of silent film, the best music was written later, in the 40’s to the 70’s — the Golden and Silver ages:  Steiner, Korngold, Herrmann, Mancini, Williams, Goldsmith, Morricone.  The fact that two of them are nominated this year for an Oscar is amazing.

Matthew: Do you see your job as a Music Editor changing because of technology in the future? 

John: Well, Pro Tools 12.5 will make my life easier, if it works as advertised, because I’ll be able to update a co-worker with the push of a button.  The new Melodyne 4 has a tempo detection function that I plan to put through its paces.  I’m always extremely up-to-date, and I’ll upgrade the very day something is released.

On the other hand, technology can make music too rigid, which works for a very few films.  I look forward to the day when technology makes it easy to capture the inspiration that happens in a spontaneous silent film performance.  It should be as fast to write notes in a notation program as it is on a piece of manuscript paper.  We’re getting there.  Technology should become more intuitive and bend the learning curve back to the humanistic.  It should capture lightening in a bottle, not turn out glass bricks.  Music is emotion.
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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go tohttp://www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.