Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Behind Blue Glass and Monetizing Video

 Xisco Perez and I on his boat, "Katy"

I was having a chat with a very good friend of mine on Saturday in Manchester, who I had gone to visit as, due to my life being consumed solely by work, I had not seen for two years. He was telling me about how glad he was I was following my dreams and how he has always struggled to find that one thing which he knows he could achieve and which would give him the life fulfilment he and everyone else craves.

Of course, the issue got on to finances and how everything we do is dictated by money, or rather, the lack of it and it reminded me of my own experiences but also something I read a couple of years ago that issued a stark warning that as soon as you set out on the journey to build a career out of something you would do for fun anyway, people automatically expect that you should punish yourself by not being paid properly and living a life overshadowed by constant financial stress, which is, of course, complete and utter nonsense. I work harder than most people I know, I work longer hours then most people I know and now that I have finally launched Scarlet View Media, putting a value on my time, expertise, energy and effort is not just an act of principle, it's also an exercise in analytics and maths. I understand that a part of making a promise to myself to maintain my own standards through everything I do, means not doing things on the cheap, sacrificing quality and therefore, that also means there will be times when I turn down opportunities because a potential client simply isn't willing to pay what the job is worth.

This all took me back to the production of Behind Blue Glass and A Ray of Light which took place either side of "Of Shark and Man" and both of which represent stark differences in how ready I was to run productions with such lofty artistic and creative ideas. Behind Blue Glass was shot with a four man crew, three of whom, myself included, had never made a film before and A Ray of Light was just me with Brad helping on a couple of the organisational things.

Behind Blue Glass cost around €3200 to make or at least that was the budget we had, that had to cover four people, all food, transport, salary, board and diving for almost three weeks, the pre-production phase and also the post-production phase and what I actually earned myself by way of being paid for the enormous amount of time and energy I put in, over a period of four months, is roughly the same as what I would charge now, for a day's work and works out on the BBG time sheet, at less than £1 an hour...

Before you start feeling too sorry for me, I should point put that it was entirely my fault because that's what I asked for, making the biggest and most common mistake first time film-makers are guilty of, assuming people won't pay you properly so pitching at way, way less than you should so you can convince the people funding your film to let you do it.

Despite grossly undervaluing myself, my time, my energy and my expertise, the production of Behind Blue Glass was an invaluable learning process for me, it is far from perfect, mistakes were made but what I really love about it is it has a heart and soul, a group of friends setting out to do something really, really difficult and succeeding, not only that but the content is actually, really, really good, an in-depth look at the story of Great White Sharks in the Mediterranean and the human interest aspect of positive shark/human interactions. In May Brad and I held a screening of the film in Mallorca and the room was packed, there weren't enough seats in fact and the feedback was really, really positive, a few people picked up on things like parts where the sound could have been better (wind...I HATE wind) but given that we had a bare minimum of resources available the end result is still pretty impressive. Behind Blue Glass is a film made by passion, endurance, good will and positive energy and it shows.

A Ray of Light was an infinitely simpler, more streamlined and artistically successful production, aided by the fact I had come off the super intense, non-stop crash course in film-making that was making "Of Shark and Man." I went into it knowing how I wanted it to look, what I wanted the message to be and how I wanted to express myself as an auteur and it also introduced my natural style of film-making. A Ray of Light is different to Behind Blue Glass in that a lot of BBG was scripted, a constructed narrative delivered into camera in a very pure documentary style and that was originally what I had intended for "Of Shark and Man." It was only two days into production in Fiji that it became clear that I was more natural just being me, no script, just genuine emotion, feeling and honesty, captured in a conversational style, as though there is no barrier between you and the viewer.

This stylistic imprint now defines how I make films, they must be honest and they must be aesthetically appealing, to me, film is not just putting an image on screen, each shot counts and each shot should tell the story in itself, its composition, framing, focus points and colours, anyone can point a camera at something, not everyone can engage you in a story. A Ray of Light was shot primarily when the people involved weren't aware they were being filmed, a window into that point in time in which one man's story is told, a story we ultimately found out cut a little too close to the bone for some of the glossier yet more impotent NGOs out there. It is popular though, the feedback has been quite incredible and at the time of writing, it is closing in on 13,000 views and it is that number which encouraged me to write this blog...

A Ray of Light helped raise almost €40,000 for the Mallorca Stingray Survey and cost about £700 to make, not including payment to me as the Director, Producer, Cameraman, DoP and Editor, had that been included, it would have cost around £5000-6000 to produce. The reason I don't include that is because it didn't exist, I didn't get paid because I paid for the production out of my own pocket, that £700 came out of money I had earned for an order of Behind Blue Glass DVDs.

We live in a world where, like music, people all of a sudden feel entitled to films for free, why should you have to pay for music and films when everyone who makes them is a millionaire right! It's also easier to put a film out now than ever, more people are doing it than ever which is great but does that mean there are loads of great films out there now? No, there are still the same amount of great films, there's just more really, really bad ones making it harder for the good ones to get seen.

I was chastised by a scientist a while back for suggesting that the worlds of art and science should work closer together to make use of each others expertise, science is about analysis, statistics, solid facts, years of research, art is about expression, emotion and story telling but this particular individual felt that no, the scientific community should be responsible for its own film-making and media output, presumably on the assumption that, because they know the results of their research on the subject matter, they also know the best way to present that in an engaging and thought provoking way to the lay man which is, of course, complete nonsense. That is why I suggested the two worlds should work closer in the first place.

Making films can be pretty easy, making good ones though, isn't, making good films which appeal to an audience who may otherwise not be interested in the subject matter, is really, really difficult and that is challenge with conservation related media. Conservation isn't about scientists and how they spent years in a lab researching something, it's about how law makers, game changers and the man on the street take the information provided by the scientific community and put it to use to make the world a better place. The scientist in question didn't seem to grasp that dry statistics, white coats and laboratories doesn't really stir the emotional loins of the average person.

The one thing that makes good films happen, good films which can help make the world a better place, is money. Films cost money, the people who work on these films deserve to be paid properly and they need to be marketed properly, its hardly rocket science. That brings me back to the 13,000 number...

Introducing Vimeo Tip Jar and more Creator Services from Vimeo Staff on Vimeo.

If every person who had viewed A Ray of Light had made a voluntary donation of £1 then the film would have raised an extra £13,000 which would go towards recouping my costs, marketing and promoting "Of Shark and Man" and making more films to highlight important environmental issues. It would also show that people accept and appreciate that there is value in work like this and it deserves to be rewarded by helping the film-maker have the luxury of perhaps a few less sleepless nights worrying about the next bill to come through the letterbox, food, stuff like that...

People have complained for years, myself included, at the quality, or rather the complete lack of it, in media representation of sharks and the ocean environment, through expensive, yet completely soulless, cynical and contrived shows and series like "Shark Men," "Whale Wars" and most of the stuff we see on Shark Week and the simple way to get better, is to support the people who make better quality media. Shows like the aforementioned ones are merely pretty wrapping around the commercials, they're not there to save the world, they're there to make you watch the adverts and buy shit you don't need, that's all.

How do you do support the film-makers who want to make the stuff you want to see? Financially, that's how, if the money isn't there to make proper shark related films, then they won't get made, simple, so if you watch the video above, I have decided to add Tip Jar to A Ray of Light, Love Sharks Love Fiji and The Sanctuary so if you like it, you think it's well made, you like the message or the way it's filmed, please make an affordable donation which will help me keep making these types of films and giving a voice to all of us who want a better world for our marine creatures.

To go back to Behind Blue Glass as well, in 2013 Vimeo are launching a Pay to View service meaning that finally, regardless of where you are in the world, for a very fair one off payment, you can stream the film whenever you like for the rest of your life. As soon as Vimeo implement it, I will be adding BBG to it and will of course be announcing it here, the mailing list and on the Facebook Page.

I make these films for the message and I make these films for you, I appreciate your support, it is one of the main things that keeps me going and I hope you also see the value in financially supporting independent film. Nobody is owed a living, but I do believe that effort, hard work, get up and go and artistic creativity do deserve to be rewarded.

I would love to read comments from you all about this, particularly from other film-makers and also all the people who make an effort to watch low budget productions as well.

Over to you...

Thursday, 8 November 2012

A Big Blog for the Aspiring Film-Maker Part II!

One from the Liber Necris shoot

I'll start by apologising, aside from the thirty-two years prior to "From the Office to the Ocean," this five weeks or so has been the longest I've gone without a blog so sorry for that but I have just been so immensely busy I have literally not had the time to put aside to write one! I've been busy doing photo shoots for bands (nice, gritty and doomy stuff, see above), filming projects for Scarlet View Media, setting up the company in the legal sense, trying to drum up business, building the social media and website, building the new "From the Office..." website with Kris and trying to get through proposals for future projects, all the while soldiering on with "Of Shark and Man."

The long term goal for Scarlet View Media is for it to be the production company for creative, exciting and ethical shark film-making and programming but to do that, it needs to grow, to grow, it needs money so that's what I'm working on at the moment because life as a Film-Maker is tough, make no mistake about that! What I do feel proud about though is that people regularly contact me asking my advice on starting out in the independent film world. I am certainly not the oracle, I'm not even the best person to ask but I do my best and the reason people ask is because I am happy to help, using my own experience.

Henceforth, we pick up from where we left off with part II to the previous blog.

You have your camera, you have your sound recording gear and you have some great ideas and bundles of enthusiasm so get out there and shoot first and foremost. Before spunking all your money on expensive kit you need to get what you have in the field and get to grips with it and it's only when you do this, you appreciate the benefit of what's up next. Stabilisation and movement accessories.

A good, solid and smooth, fluid head video tripod needs to be very high up on your list for two reasons. Firstly, the ability to set up a rock solid shot with zero wobble gives you an edge over the casual amateur because unless it's a dramatic "in the moment" type shot that benefits from camera shake, a stable shot just looks so much better. Secondly, the capability to add camera movement whilst retaining that stability.

The fluid head on a proper video tripod will allow smooth, silky pans and tilts, getting rid of those horrible, jerky, awkward movements you get with non-video tripod heads. As with seemingly everything to do with video though, they're not cheap.

Some models are more expensive than others of course, the most common names you'll encounter will be Manfrotto and Velbon but there is a dizzying array on the market, some of which top the £1000 mark. Being on a budget, I chose to go with the Fancier 717 Pro and although not "cheap," it is still way below a lot of the other tripods in its class.

What's good about it? It's sturdy, lightweight, the handle extends to a really long length and the drag on it is really pretty damn good. The downsides are that the base plate could be a little smoother, the quick release lock switch cannot fully turn on a DSLR (although it is securely fastened) and the tightened drag on the tilt (up and down) isn't quite fully locked, those aside though, it's great value and I would recommend it highly to those on a budget. Extra advice for free...Get a spare quick release plate and a spare base plate adaptor.

Shoulder Rig Set Up

I use a tripod for probably 85% of what I shoot, what can I say, I like nice stable shots, but sometimes you want, need or are forced to go hand-held which can be a brilliant creative tool in itself and particularly if you have one of the DSLR model cameras or similar, modern devices like the Black Magic or C300, you'll need a shoulder support, the idea being the more points of contact with your body, the more stability and in my experience, hand holding a DSLR for sustained periods is uncomfortable and usually the footage requires stabilising in post.

If you haven't already looked around, these things are expensive, overly expensive in fact, the DSLR accessory market is one which sets its pricing in the upper scale so if you're willing to pay for a decent shoulder rig set up, shop around and take your time! I finally got my perfect set up a couple of weeks ago, two years after I started looking, more on that in a second though...

A cautionary tale...

If you have looked around for your own rig, you will undoubtedly have come across one of these rigs in the picture, I did, I bought one! £29, bargain! I shot Behind Blue Glass on it and used it for the first few days in Fiji but here in begins a cautionary tale...Yes they're cheap, they're cheap because they're made of plastic and plastic melts in the sun, which almost cost me an expensive camera on the second day of shooting in Fiji which would have been a catastrophe. Do they stabilise the camera? Yes...If you don't breathe when filming...Would I recommend you attach your expensive hard earned camera to one? No, no I wouldn't.

After almost losing my 7D to a six foot fall onto a hard stone floor I decided to give the cheap options a swerve and get a proper rig, that was in July of last year and I have only just got one I am happy with, I say happy, I mean delighted, I love it!

Finally sorted!

There is a huge range of 15mm rail based shoulder rigs for DSLRs out there nowadays, from the top end, ridiculously expensive but very good RedRock and Zacuto the cheaper but still not cheap Indisystem, Jag35 and Express35 who make decent, well made rigs for the serious amateur or prosumer and then you have the budget rigs from Habbycam and Opteka, a fair bit cheaper but then don't expect the same as you'd get with a Zacuto!

I've missed one name off that list, Lanparte, sourced via Cinegear Pro in London. I had flirted with Indisystem, Jag35 and Express35, even paying someone to fabricate one for me but Indisystem were out in front, flashing their affordability and seemingly pretty well made rigs at me and winking, I was that close to deciding on them until I stumbled across CinegearPro, a company I had not previously encountered and their Lanparte (ditto) rigs.

So I did a bit of research starting, as always, on Vimeo and Youtube for video reviews and found this dude reviewing his Lanparte rig. After a few months research and with the lovely surprise of HM Revenues and Tax giving me a tax rebate out of the blue (woohoo!!) and having been down to see Miguel at Cinegear Pro, I decided to take the plunge and kit myself out properly. I figured now was the right time, I needed a good set up so sod it, I'll take the hit now and go for it. The beauty of these types of set up is the flexibility so here are the components I went for, but before I do, I'm not telling you to buy these, I'm not saying it's the right answer and I did pay for them, this isn't in return for a freebie!
I then also blatantly copied this brilliant idea to avoid paying over a hundred quid for a counter weight and voila! A Shoulder Rig but is it any good?

The answer can really only be a resounding yes! Firstly, it wasn't cheap so it was a serious investment for me and there are cheaper options on the market but the quality of every aspect of each component is absolutely top class, super solid, rugged, ergonomic and really, really well made, when you screw any of this stuff in it locks completely and feels 100% secure. It's all as light as possible as well yet reassuringly weighty in the components to which you would attach your camera and it just feels "right."

The handles are amazing, articulating any which way you want and locking tight with zero wobble, the articulated monitor arm is the only thing I have used which solidly supports my Lilliput monitor and the shoulder mount, whilst hardly covered in the softest of cashmere is more than comfortable enough. The follow focus is brilliant, again, really well made and the care to make it so it folds down and out of the way when not in use is the kind of added touch I really like. Be aware though, on some Canon lenses with infinite focus rings (like my workhorse 15-85mm lens) the follow focus isn't effective if the focus limits are exceeded making those perfect focus pulls just too fiddly but on lenses without infinite focus, it works like a dream and the results look just stunning.

The rig packs down into each individual component taking about five minutes to set up and when broken down fits perfectly into the big one of these which incidentally is one of my favourite acquisitions in ages, less than £25 for three solid, light flight cases which have served me brilliantly, the big one for the rig, the medium one for sound equipment and monitor and the small one I am searching for a use for (I have two small ones now). They keep everything together, weatherproof, safe and neat and are very affordable.

Why all the detail on the shoulder rig...Simple really, it took me so long to find the right one and for a big investment I was becoming frustrated that everything seemed good but just not good enough, or perfect but well out of my price range. In this Lanparte gear I've found the best of both worlds, the perfect set up at a price which although isn't cheap, is still value for money. For me, these components and rigs are better than all the RedRock ones I have seen (and cheaper) and at least as good if not better than what I have seen from Zacuto as well, plus, for a little more money, you get a far higher elevation of quality over the mid-range stuff and it's all built to last. Also, I must point out the level of customer service I got from Miguel and Derek at CinegearPro was outstanding. Both are film-makers themselves (check out Derek's excellent film "Homeless, A Mile In Their Shoes") so understood my needs and helped me in assembling exactly the best components for my rig. I would recommend them extremely highly so if you're in the market for a rig or rig parts, get in touch with them.

One of the primary things which adds production value, that is, stuff which makes your video look high budget even if it wasn't, is smooth camera movement. Watch any major motion picture or big budget drama, all of them will have gorgeous sweeping camera movements which set the scene, build tension, introduce a character or establish motivation. A good example is the first shot after the credits in the film "Panic Room."

I really, really like "dolly" or "slider" shots and if you're not aware what that means, it is the movement of the camera towards a point of interest or into a scene, it's an incredibly flexible, stylish and cool way to elevate a scene above the ordinary and unusually for a factual "docu-film" I included a few in "Of Shark and Man" with great effect which you will see when it's finally finished! To give you an idea, here is a nice example of ways to use a cheap slider to get great results.

Konova Slider Montage Film from Dave Dugdale on Vimeo.

There are loads of slider options on the market nowadays, ranging from super cheap mini sliders to the expensive longer ones. Kessler and Cinevate make some fantastic sliders and dollies at the higher end of the financial scale with Indisystem, CinegearPro, Glidetrack and Cobra Crane also making some great sliders for those on a lower budget.

The slider I use is the 80cm Konova Slider which I got for about £320 if I remember right, last year. It's a great budget slider which I would definitely recommend with one caveat...You need to buy either another fluid tripod head or a solid ball head camera mount with a quick release so you can articulate your camera angles easily so budget for that.

Another brilliant option for impressive, cinematic camera moves is the DSLR Devices Mini Jib, I have used one but I don't have one, however I want one. Badly. I want one like I want the new GoPro and that's a lot.

This is a great review which showcases what this ingenious piece of kit can achieve and for £220 it's an absolute bargain, in fact, that £220 will add probably at least £500 to the value of your video each time you use it if you use it creatively and that's pretty good business in anyone's book.

So that's part II and once again, apologies for the delay, I know there is no need for me to apologise since I have been so ridiculously busy but it's just good form isn't it. Next up in part III will be smaller accessories and lighting!

I'll try not to keep it too long until the next blog I promise! If you're going to DEMA, go see Andrew at the Beqa Adventure Divers  stand and tell them I sent you :)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Big Blog For the Aspiring Film-Maker! Part I

Two years ago I didn't even have a camera, now, I'm a professional Film-Maker with a steadily growing mountain of kit I use on shoots both on land and underwater. I have taught myself the film-making process, technical terms (although they're still a little sketchy) and I have even started to teach myself both Photoshop and web design. All of this has to been to achieve my ultimate goal of setting up my own production company through which I release all my films, giving myself a far greater element of control than if I were having to go cap in hand to other companies and thus risk losing control on the creative process which, with the messages I want to get out there, could prove something of an ethical minefield for me.

I have had to learn all this stuff myself, of course I've picked up on bits of advice here and there from people more experienced than I, but predominantly, I have learnt through doing and also using the internet as a source of inspiration and knowledge. Probably the best sources of inspiration for me at least, are Philip Bloom's Vimeo channel and website and also the Oliviatech website and blog. I also recommend signing up to the No Film School mailing list for a weekly roundup of the best web content for independent Film-Makers, thanks to Paul de Kock for recommending that one to me!

I'll get this out of the way, I'm a proper nerd, a genuine film geek, so part of what makes an enjoyable evening for me is watching After Effects tutorials on or camera reviews. Last night I watched a load of reviews for three point studio lighting rigs and I have even been known to waste a night watching video reviews of tripods! Like I said, I'm a nerd, so to avoid you wasting your lives in the same, equally pathetic way when you could be out drinking gassy lager and trying to get your greasy paws on members of the opposite (or same) sex, I thought I could at least start you off by pointing you in the direction of things which might just help all you aspiring Film-Makers!

Canon C300

The first thing to look at is which camera to use, you can of course rent camera equipment but these days, broadcast standard HD is so readily available at affordable prices, you really want to look at buying.

I am a big advocate of Canon's DSLR cameras and own (and adore) the Canon 7D. There are several Canon DSLRs which are more than capable of producing high end video, the 5D MkII and MkIII, the 550D (Rebel T2i in the States), the 6D, the 60D and the 1Dx, to name the most commonly used and unless you're a multi-squillionaire who can afford a Red, an Alexa or a Phantom, then DSLRs can be the answer to your prayers.

The DSLR is of course, still a "stills" camera with video capability and the bodies, i.e. without lenses, will set you back between £500 - £5000 dependent upon the model. I personally love the fact I can set up a shot and check it with a still, or show a 2nd camera op what shot I want by taking a photo so it works for me perfectly but some people will prefer a dedicated video camera. One down side of the DSLR cameras is that they cannot record video for more than twelve minutes, if they did, they would be classed as video cameras and the relevant tax would be added making them more expensive.

If you want a dedicated video camera then the last 18 months has seen a glut of new models ranging in price from the budget to the mega expensive so bearing in mind the "indie" element of what I do, I'll focus more on those within reach to people like us, maybe also those with a bit more disposable income. To help, I will include video reviews by Philip Bloom because, well, he's "the man."

The Canon C300 (reviewed here by PB) is a great camera, perfect for documentaries and seeing as it is 4K ready, comes with all the add-ons like monitor, handle etc for around the £10K mark, is priced competitively. The benefit it takes CF cards over other more expensive formats is huge, it's relatively small and the output picture looks exceptional. However, the one downside to the C300 is no super slo-mo at 1080p!! Please Canon, fix this with firmware updates if possible! There is also the less expensive C100 and the upcoming, more hi-spec, C500. When the time comes for an upgrade, the C300 will definitely be high on my "wish list."

The Black Magic Cinema Camera

A Canon Pro I may be but I can't ignore other brands on the market and one in particular is causing a massive stir, the Black Magic Cinema Camera (watch the review in full, well worth the time).

The good stuff: It shoots in 4K RAW, the output is phenomenally good, it has a high dynamic range, it's small and it costs £2000, yes, two grand!! That is pretty amazing by anyone's standards. The downsides are that the recordable media is ridiculously expensive, these are not CF cards, nope, they cost around £200 each and for that, you get about half an hour of 4K RAW shooting space, they're huge and will require a computer with serious muscle to even play, let alone process. You can record in ProRes HQ if you want more output to each card (about 3.5 hours) though but the cards are still expensive. Again, no slo-mo high frame rates and also, the BM has an internal battery so no battery changes when the power goes.

Sony NEX FS700

The Sony NEX FS700 is another 4K ready camera, has in-built ND filters, puts out a superb image and is similar in many ways to the cameras above but with one huge bonus on top, super slo-mo high frame rates! What I've seen from this camera has looked very, very good, especially slow motion and it fits in the range between the C300 and Black Magic, coming in around the £7500 mark

Panasonic GH2

The Panasonic GH2 is an option for those on a tighter budget and is a mirror-less DSLR. This side by side comparison with a Red Epic is very interesting, considering the Epic is a 5K, super expensive cinema camera it holds up quite well considering the cost. As a DSLR, it's small, portable, easy to travel with and highly affordable!

These are just a few examples of the newer range of cameras on the market and you will notice I haven't included what could be classed as the traditional camcorder types, i.e. the XF100 or the XL2 and the main reason for that is I haven't shot on those types of cameras before, however, the benefit these more traditional designs can offer, is that they come supplied with many of the extras a DSLR shooter would have to purchase separately so can be a more cost effective solution, however, this is then offset by the size and weight when travelling abroad.

If you were to say, "David, I want a full HD video camera to make my independent films, music videos or wedding videos, what would you suggest?" Honestly? I'd still say the Canon 7D. The new firmware update has addressed many of the issues that ever so slightly hampered the camera previously (in camera audio level control! Hooray!) and the output picture really is exceptional. Cinematic depth of field, clean crisp image, portable, affordable, flexibility and control, awesome, the rolling shutter can be a bit of a problem but that aside, it's absolutely spot on, plus, Canon build quality is stunning, rugged and looked after properly, their cameras will last you forever. There's a reason I was so keen to have Canon involved in "From the Office..."

One day David, one day...

After the camera, you need to consider what lenses you're going to need. In case you're not sure, lenses come in different sizes so you will see lenses described as 8-15mm, 70-200mm, 35mm etc and the simple explanation is that the smaller the number, the "wider" the lens, wide basically means you fit more of what is in front of you on the screen. The higher the number means the further away you can zoom in on something and see it in focus.

I have four lenses I use, my workhorse lens, the Canon 15-85mm which is always on my camera in the bag and which I use for probably 80% of what I shoot, a 10-22mm wide angle lens which I use underwater and is ideal for filming big animals but also inside small rooms or for landscapes, a 50mm prime lens (£60 from Incheon Airport and one of the best things I have ever bought) which is ideal for interviews and pieces to camera and use in low light, and a 70-300mm Macro Sigma lens. I actually used this latter lens quite a lot in A Ray of Light so I could film a lot of the action without anybody realising they were being filmed!

Lenses aren't cheap though so if you can only afford one to begin with, I would suggest the 15-85mm or the more expensive if you can afford it, 24-105mm.

You can record lovely crisp images that are in focus and everything, they may even be well composed and your subject is great on camera but certain things just make a video or film suck, over reliance on stills with tacky animation, bad fonts, spelling mistakes and worst of all bad sound!! We had some issues with sound on two interviews in Behind Blue Glass due to the wind and the lapel mics we had borrowed not working and although I was able to clean a lot of the sound up, it simply doesn't beat recording perfect sound on the shoot, a relatively simple process which a lot of amateur film-makers seem to completely miss out.

Having learnt from my own mistakes I made three essential purchases, a lapel mic, a Zoom H4N and a Zoom H1N to go with my Rode Directional Video Mic. There are other sound recorders on the market but the two Zoom recorders are exceptional value for money and provide outstanding results.

The way I record sound on a shoot is to input the lapel mic into the Zoom H1N, a cheaper option than a wireless radio pack recorder and without the risk of radio interference, with the Rode Video Mic on the camera and plugged into the mic jack input with another mic on a boom going into the H4N. This gives you three ways to record broadcast standard sound and if one or even two fail, you at least have one or two backups. After recording the interview or piece to camera,  then record between thirty seconds and three minutes of ambient sound on the H4N to lay under the "vocal" track, this adds depth and texture to the sound design and gives it that high quality, professional sheen.

Two things to bear in mind:

1. You can never have too much sound recorded
2. Wind is your mortal enemy, avoid it at all costs...

With the latter in mind, high on my shopping list is a Redhead Windscreen, definitely $35 well spent...

Now, I know I've done something similar to this before but with the launch of my production company, Scarlet View Media, (Twitter here) (Website almost ready) and with upcoming productions in the coming weeks, I figured it couldn't hurt to revisit the subject and see if I could maybe answer some of the questions you may have about starting out as a Film-Maker or just an enthusiastic amateur. My main focus will always be the "From the Office..." series and other shark based projects but in order to do those, I have to ensure I can live and eat so I'm approaching this from the perspective of films of all types so hopefully you find some useful information or inspiration here.

I will be featuring accessories, stabilising options, shoulder rigs, bags, editing suites and software. the lot and although this is all only my personal opinion, anything I say is based on my own experiences and I am not paid to say any of this! Part II coming soon...

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Ron Taylor, My Hero.

On the back of the wonderful news in my last blog, I am incredibly sad to hear the news today that my hero, the pioneer of shark film-making, the greatest of them all, Ron Taylor has passed away after suffering with Leukaemia for the last two years.

It is no secret to anybody who knows me or who has spent time with me that Ron and Valerie Taylor are in a group of maybe four or five people who I hold in higher regard than anybody else, the people whom I have looked to in my life for inspiration and influence not only on my professional life, but in how to be as a person.

Make no mistake, if there was no Ron Taylor, there would be no "From the Office to the Ocean," both Ron and Valerie have been the single biggest influence on my career and love for sharks since I first saw "Realm of the Shark" aged seven. By then I had been in love with sharks for four years and in Ron and Valerie, I found somewhere I could gain inspiration and learn as much about sharks as possible. I have no shame or embarrassment to say today what I said back then, "I want to be just like Ron Taylor," I will always want to be like Ron but I know all too well that he was a one off, I can only hope to try my best to maintain the message he brought to the world, to respect our underwater world, to protect it and to teach people about the importance of all life living in the world's oceans.

Ron Taylor's contribution to the world cannot be overestimated. Ron Taylor was the first to film Great White Sharks underwater, Ron Taylor came up with the idea and along with Jeremiah Sullivan, developed the mesh suit, Ron Taylor filmed the live shark scenes in JAWS, Ron Taylor helped film the greatest shark sequence ever filmed, the first shark protection laws came into place because of the efforts of Ron and Valerie and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I never met Ron, it will now always be an unfulfilled dream and where I could tell the story of Ron Taylor, I feel it better to leave that to the people who knew him, I am merely one of the many people whose lives have been touched by the king of shark related film-making. The letters sent to a nine year old me by Ron and Valerie and the book they sent about the first experiments with the mesh suits (seen in my hands in this pic) are amongst my most prized possessions but the greatest thing Ron Taylor did for me was teach me that you could get close to and film sharks and that those films could inspire generations of people to love sharks in the way he and Valerie do. I have always aimed to try my best to offer a continuation to their work, partly as a way of thanks for the inspiration they gave me.

Millions of people will have a sense of loss with the passing of Ron but nothing will compare to that being felt by Valerie. It's not for me to try and quantify that or tell you about their time together but it's impossible to think of one without the other, they were always just, Ron and Valerie and to me, even with Ron's passing, they will always be Ron and Valerie.

Over the coming days you will read many tributes to the great man and the most moving will be from those who knew him best, my friend Mike Neumann is a close friend of Ron and Valerie's and he would speak of Ron with glowing respect, admiration and no shortage of love, it's not just the people like me from all around the world who looked up to Ron, his close friends also looked up to him, He was that good at what he did and I am reliably informed he was a true gentleman to boot.

All I can say now is to pass on my deepest sympathies to Valerie and Ron's close friends and family, the world has lost a giant of the underwater world.

Like the title of this blog says, Ron Taylor, my hero.

Edit: As I say above about the best tributes coming from those who knew Ron, please take the to read the pieces here, here and here

Ron Taylor - March 8th 1934 - September 9th 2012

Friday, 7 September 2012

Blog Number 100 - A Miraculous Conservation Success Story


Would you believe it? 100 blog posts and unique hits creeping up to 100,000 in the two years since I started "From the Office..." from a completely standing start, two years ago. There's been highs and lows, celebration and controversy, delight and despair and without exception, as we move forward, the popularity of this project and everything that goes with it is increasing at a fantastic rate and even though you might not agree with everything you read here, you certainly keep reading so thank you. As the curator of the world's greatest online blog about someone from Manchester who makes films about sharks, I would like to let you all know I appreciate all your support.

Since I realised this would be blog 100, I wanted to make it a good one and asked on the Facebook group for suggestions as to what it could be about and I had quite a few come through various channels with a "highlights so far" piece being suggested by a few people.

I had actually decided on that but as it turns out, through a gloriously happy twist of fate, blog 100 will be me delivering some incredible news about an amazing achievement which is, in turn, one of the highlights of the last two years

A Ray of Light from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

Remember Brad? My antipodean partner in crime who, like me, believes in actually doing things!

Since Brad first contacted me towards the back end of 2010, we have shared many great moments together, some great ideas and epic highs and lows, all of which emanating from our desire to actually go out there into the wild and try to contribute, in our own ways, to making the world a better place.

If you haven't seen the video above, A Ray of Light, watch it, then come back and continue reading because everything will all make so much more sense.

What seems like forever ago, Brad and I talked about a project he had come up with, a survey to find out more about the yearly appearance in the Bay of Palma, of big numbers of Stingrays, many of which we have since discovered, were heavily pregnant. The concept being that he could set up a Stingray survey, utilising volunteers from the yachting community alongside divers and try to understand this annual aggregation more, how big the numbers are, why they're there and maybe even where are they coming from and going to after they leave?

This was a monumental undertaking from the get go because there was no money, no real support from government except from our ever-present and always super cool friend, Gabriel Morey. We talked about how, in order to get people interested in protecting the Stingrays, we would first need to know a lot more about them and their yearly visits to the Bay of Palma. Anyway, long story short, a few months later, Brad emailed to tell me it was up and running and he was conducting surveys with a small handful of divers.

I had been working like a dog for two years solid and had just taken the first order for Behind Blue Glass DVDs and figured I needed a holiday. I had been planning on going over to stay with Brad and Bea anyway and then one night, in bed, I had the idea of shooting a short film about the project but not the usual "... this is bad, look at these horrible images of dead things, we're all gonna die" type PSA, more of an engaging story about the very, very rare breed of people who sacrifice, sacrifice and sacrifice all for a cause they believe is worth fighting for. So, my "holiday" turned into a film shoot and the rest, as they say, is history. Read the full story here.

Good to be back in my "room" at Brad's

In real world conservation, that is, outside in the sun, wind, rain, snow etc, where hopes, dreams and self belief are crushed on a daily basis and where the world seemingly tries its utmost to destroy you, the single biggest problem is lack of funding, followed by apathy, everything else is merely a mild annoyance.

Brad was spending all his own money on the surveys, losing working days, burning through fuel like there was no tomorrow, using all his own gear and surviving on about three hours sleep a night, I paid for the production of the film entirely out of my own pocket and battles with beurocracy were a daily occurrance. We needed to inspire people to care about an animal which just isn't as inspiring as sharks or tigers or as easily marketable as whales and dolphins. The issue here was that we had what was a complete oddity in the Med, a healthy population of a marine creature, so we figured we should do what we can to maintain those healthy numbers and use it as a reason as to why marine protected areas in the Mediterranean, especially those around the Balearics, are so important.

Three weeks in Mallorca and three weeks at home and I had the finished film, releasing it to an entirely poistive response, interest in the project increased overnight, we even bit the bullet with the obligatory Facebook page and launched an Indiegogo campaign with the approach being a requested single donation of $5 from everyone interested enough in marine conservation to help with the running costs of the project but social media based animal awareness pages and groups just don't work like that unfortunately and despite only asking for donations of $5, Brad who was by now becoming quite the overnight sensation, found fundraising desperately slow and immensely frustrating.

And herein comes our amazing news...
Stefan and Irena Lawrence

 Just when things seemed at their most desperate, I am absolutely overjoyed to announce that one individual, the fantabulous Stefan A Lawrence, has pledged a donation of €35,000!!

Stefan's family has lived on Mallorca since the 60's after moving from New York, all of whom share a passion for the sea and all its creatures. In Stefan's on words;

"What gets us up in the morning (apart from our rambunctious two year old) are people like Brad and Bea. These are the doers not the talkers or worse yet the takers in life. As such it is our pleasure to work with and give back to the Med by supporting ONDINE's stingray survey."

This is a testament to Brad's tireless hard work and passion and the whole thing makes me beam with pride for a few reasons but primarily that this has all come from a small group of friends wanting to do what they felt was the right thing to do, to start a project from scratch with zero support, to build that project and make it totally inclusive and to achieve what looked like almost impossible goals. This funding is not borne from a desire to gain plaudits, to benefit financially and nor does it come with a long list of restrictive demands for things in return, it's just someone else doing what they think is the right thing to do.

This is a sign that very real conservation projects can be established by ordinary people in the face of what seem insurmountable obstacles, that there are people out there who believe in action over endless talk and deliberation and that you can just get out there and inspire people to help our marine environments. There are great conservation opportunities on your doorstep, wherever that may be. Whilst people may be railing against dolphin slaughter in Taiji, shark finning in Costa Rica, or the unsustainable harvest of Bluefin Tuna, signing petitions, sending emails and creating Facebook pages, there are projects in your area which need your help and involvement so go find them and get involved! By all means do the other stuff too but don't ignore local issues simply because they may not seem as glamorous at first.

This money means that Brad can get the materials needed for the surveys, cover fuel costs, the hiring of boats and maintenance of equipment. This means that more ground can be covered, proper study can be undertaken and most importantly, that we are now no longer hampered from simply not being able to afford doing even some of the most basic things that are required to run a long lasting conservation initiative. This doesn't mean that opportunities to help the project have now closed of course, to keep the initiative running for years to come will mean that financial support will always be gratefully received and you can get involved by contacting brad direct at

Brad's ultimate goal has always been to make the project self sufficient, so it can be grown and passed on for as many people to take part in as possible, he has always said that this isn't his project, it's Mallorca's project and I absolutely love that, it's a sign of the man and his approach to conservation, he doesn't want people kissing his arse or getting his face on the TV, he just wants the project to achieve its goals. The man is a genuine hero.

This also bodes well for future projects, one in particular I have had in mind for many, many years and which will hopefully be our next project. Obviously I won't be saying anything until Brad and I have the wheels in motion but what I will say, is that if we get it off the ground and it is successful, it will be one of the most amazing and important things you will ever see. Yes really.

In the meantime, to our hugely generous donor, we love you and cannot thank you enough, I am over the moon to see that Brad, who keeps this project running 365 days a year, is getting the support he deserves, the man is a genuine conservationist and Balearic marine life has a brighter future because of him and Bea.

This is conservation with a focus on social issues as well given the partnership with Joves Navegants and which is geared towards encouraging as many people as possible to join in and this incredibly kind gesture by an ocean lover means that it can only get bigger and inspire more people. Good things do happen to good people and sometimes, the nice guys get the rewards they deserve and if that doesn't make you feel good, nothing will!

If this does make you feel good, send Brad a message of support, he deserves a bit of love  for all his effort.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Howard Hall - The Master!

The one and only Howard Hall

Check out Mike's blog post about Howard Hall and Richard Pyle.

He then followed it up by posting Howard's "Best of 2011" showreel which I have shared before but hadn't watched for a while. Watching it again clearly reaffirms my belief that Howard is nothing less than a God of the underwater image world.

The Blue Ocean in RED from Howard Hall on Vimeo.

As an aspiring film-maker and underwater cameraman, it's impossible not to watch this and be utterly inspired. Capturing moving image is an art form and as cameras become more and more advanced, it adds more for the cameraman to consider to ensure his or her shots are crystal clear, beautifully composed and that they tell a story. Doing it underwater is an even more difficult task and Howard is one of those who makes it all look effortless and for those of us who fell in love with the ocean and all its life, Howard's footage almost certainly influenced that passion.

I have a fair few heroes in the shark and underwater world, Stan Waterman, who is one of the biggest influences on my life, a charismatic and immensely talented story teller who revolutionised underwater film-making. Ron and Valerie Taylor, the greatest single motivators for my passion for sharks, Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch who wrote what I consider the greatest shark book ever written,
Samuel "Doc" Gruber, the shark expert, a charismatic, hugely intelligent and inspiring genius who runs Bimini Shark Lab and who has probably done more to educate the world about sharks than anybody and Dr Eugenie Clark, a woman who still at the grand age of 90, works tirelessly on behalf of marine life and who was diving with sharks without cages long before people accepted it could be done with a degree of safety.

There are many others and Mike's posting of Howard's video reminded me that I owe all these people a debt of thanks and gratitude for inspiring me to love sharks as much as I do and hopefully, one day, I can grow into being 10% as amazing as they are.

In the meantime, please take a minute to watch and marvel at Howard's 2011 showreel, the man is a colossus of the moving image.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Here It Is - "The Sanctuary"

As promised, here is the second PSA I produced, which would have announced the creation of the Fiji Shark Sanctuary had it passed and follows hot on the heels of the release of "Love Sharks Love Fiji" which if you haven't seen yet, you can click the link and do so then share on your social media sites and with email address list.

The Sanctuary is a seven minute short which was designed to be used as an educational tool to explain exactly what a shark sanctuary is and why they are beneficial, an inspirational tool to encourage people to support the creation of more such sanctuaries and a way to illustrate just how magnificent Fiji's sharks are.

Again, as with Love Sharks Love Fiji, all the underwater footage comes from "Of Shark and Man" and was filmed on Shark Reef in Beqa Lagoon but this time, The Sanctuary also features three interviews shot by us, again for "Of Shark and Man," featuring Rusi, Angelo Villagomez and someone else whose name escapes me.

This short film features real star names in the shark world, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Cristina Zenato and Douglas Seifert, along with the major players in shark conservation and the edit for this, like LSLF was a pre-emptive one and therefore, plays as though the sanctuary bid had been successful.

So we have some of the best shark footage you will see, the elite of the shark world, a strong educational mantra and a vital conservation message so although the sanctuary didn't happen, this short film still has much to offer as a social media and viral internet tool so please, share it, it's what all the effort to produce it was for in the first place, so you and your friends can encourage more people to get behind the movement to create a global network of protected areas for sharks.

There are about a squillion shark groups on Facebook (that's a rough estimate) so I would imagine all the above really should merit the people who admin those pages sharing with their audience, if only to see sharks being awesome, so hopefully, this little film and its vital message gets seen by a very large audience. If you are a member on one of those groups and you don't see it being shared, put it up yourself and help spread the message that marine protected areas are the greatest hope for sharks!

Original footage, original music, legendary people, superb content, amazing sharks, a great message and it's free to watch!! What's not to love about that?

The Sanctuary from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Seeing as it's Shark Week...Some footage from "Of Shark and Man"

Shark Week is upon us again, and for the twenty fifth time, every one will go shark mad for a week. I don't have SKY TV so I haven't seen any yet and will be relying on other means to see the shows so can't comment on whatever was shown yesterday but I figured that after having sat on them for months, now would be as good a time as any to make two short PSA films I made public, although it is with more than a hint of sadness.

Last year, in late September, I was asked by The Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project to produce a PSA to support the launch of the Fiji Shark Sanctuary, the idea being that I could combine the footage we had shot of the sharks for "Of Shark and Man," with interview footage from world renowned shark experts and conservation leaders, most of which they already had. I augmented that idea by suggesting I make two, the one minute TV spot and a longer, online accompaniment piece which explained the concept of a shark sanctuary in greater detail and went into a little of the back story about Fiji's Shark Conservation efforts.

The plan as I said, was that they would accompany and globalise the announcement the Sanctuary had been confirmed only for the bad news to break that surprisingly and against all the positive noises coming out of Fiji, the decree had been rejected.

I was of course devastated at the news, I had really hoped that Fiji would pass the sanctuary, not because I wanted to release the PSAs (of course I did but that's irrelevant) but because of the attachment I have to Fiji's sharks which is probably stronger than any personal attachment I feel to a population of sharks anywhere else.

From a creative and artistic standpoint though, I want the PSAs out in the public domain and I felt that although the Sanctuary was defeated, the sheer amount of hard work, late nights and effort that went into putting them both together justifies their release, that and by way of almost saying, to paraphrase "Bullseye," "Look at what we could have won"

Regarding the work that went into these, for something relatively straightforward, they were, although enjoyable pieces to work on, at times, a flippin' nightmare. Technical issues, (this was pre-Novatech days, henceforth, everything took ten times longer), working with different formats, aspect ratios and codecs, the political element and losing full days waiting for the various incarnations to upload using dial up speed broadband all took their toll a bit.

This was a labour of love, I'm not releasing these because I was paid to do so, in fact, Fed-Ex'ing an external hard drive from the UK to Fiji meant it actually cost me money to make these so the cynics amongst you can forget any notion that these were both financially motivated projects. All in all, it took about six weeks to get both pieces finished. This also all happened during the six month slog through cataloguing all the footage for "Of Shark and Man" so it was not an easy process, I'll stick to calling that period "character building" and move on...

OK, so a bit about both pieces...

The Sanctuary

Both PSAs centre around the concept of some of the great and good of the shark world delivering a positive message about the benefit of shark conservation and why a Shark Sanctuary is such a good idea. All the interviews except those we shot with Angelo, Rusi and the other rather obvious one, had already been filmed by various other people and my idea was that I could take these interviews and pre-emptively create a message of thanks for the establishing of the Sanctuary, essentially creating the narrative I wanted, using what footage I had available. This is difficult, very difficult in fact because you are working back to front and was actually a direct influence on "A Ray of Light", in that there, I knew what I wanted to say with the piece so constructed a narrative in my head and asked questions relating to that, hoping Brad would create the narrative himself with answers that fit with my vision for the piece.

Working with footage shot by others and not specifically for the project you have in mind does cause various problems in things like sound, format and colour so addressing them was also an issue but what I think will be the everlasting image of those interviews was just how good these people are on camera and how articulate, informed and passionate they are. Not only that, I also learnt a lot about them in the bits you don't see, such as Rick MacPherson and Douglas Seiffert's shared love of Creme Brulee...

This was also sort of a dream come true for me as well because although it's a slight cheat, I appear in a film with two of my ultimate heroes, Ron & Valerie Taylor, something I have dreamt about since I was about six.

Aside from those interview shots, everything else you see was footage we shot for "Of Shark and Man," no stock footage here, not for us! As is becoming customary for my films, music is provided by the amazing Chris Zabriskie.

Love Sharks Love Fiji

"We need a TV PSA that is sixty seconds long and it can't be a second longer," that was the original challenge and with all the great content and footage I had, it made this piece a huge challenge but not only did I manage not to go over the sixty second mark, I hit it dead on. 

Editing a sixty second piece which flows fluidly, is easy to watch and says everything which needs to be said is not easy but  I'm really quite proud of this and it's a huge shame it's not being shown on Fijian TV right now, doing what it was intended to do. I came up with the idea of a thank you piece but with a difference, not just humans saying thank you, but the sharks themselves, humans and sharks accepting each other and working together, that kind of thing. It's a bit hippy trippy but I thought creatively it was quite fresh, uplifting and that it would stand out from the factory standard approach of a mournful narrative over gory footage of sharks being finned. Besides, it was intended as a celebration piece.

The music for these things is always an issue as well because you can't license well known pieces without paying through the nose for them first so that means royalty free, stock music rears its ugly head and without wanting to sound too harsh, it's almost, with a precious few notable exceptions, a bit crap. Bad music ruins a video, no matter how good the footage may be, fortunately though, as a musician myself with access to other stupendously talented musicians, I decided to fix one of the biggest problems we film-makers face myself so this PSA features the first commissioned piece through my company, Scarlet View Media, and our Bespoke Royalty Free Music service. Written and recorded by Mark Burrows, it works brilliantly and was turned around in just four days because that's what our service is all about.

The PSAs will be released separately, first up is Love Sharks Love Fiji, The Sanctuary will follow later this week so keep an eye out on The Facebook Page and follow The Scarlet View Twitter to find out when and please, I can't stress enough, if you enjoy them, share them with your friends and family on your email and social media pages if you have them. Independent Film-Makers can't make a difference if we don't have an audience to see the results of all our hard work.

Love Sharks Love Fiji from Scarlet View Media on Vimeo.

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