A Contextual Approach

To say this past year has been a year of change would be something of an understatement. It was the second year out of graduating from Madison Media Institute, where I received my associate’s degree in Video and Motion Graphics. Honestly, the first year out of college was more than a bit depressing. My reel wasn’t as strong as it should have been. I did improve upon that with my 2011 reel, but still felt my progression, both on the creative and business side, was not where it should be. Editing my 2011 reel was not too exciting but it was nice to see measurable improvement.

My 2012 reel was an entirely different beast altogether. This was honestly the first year I have been excited about editing one. A year where I’d gained a lot of clients, and had a diverse body of work from which to curate the best clips for my new reel. My participation in the program with Dell to test out their high end workstation sped up this process more than a bit. Prior to Dell finding me through Twitter, I had already begun the process of collecting clips, and even buying licensed music. Filmmaker and all-around helpful gent Steven Bumgardner linked me to Premium Beat, where I found the track I would use for this year’s reel.

Desiring to get my 2012 reel done in time for SXSW, I also paired this task up with my new Dell workstation to really put it through its paces. Due to pressing client projects and a last-minute shoot before SXSW, I found myself editing for almost 24 hours straight before I flew down to Austin, Texas. I was quite happy with this first “stress test” as 95% of my timeline was Dynamic Linked compositions from After Effects and RAM-intensive plugins, mostly from Red Giant Software. I was only able to crash After Effects and Premiere once. Being paranoid about compression, codecs, and web quality, I brought several compressed and uncompressed versions of my reel with me. Jack Everitt was kind enough to provide me with a fresh set of eyes and advise me on which version was the sharpest and most free of compression artifacts.

Compared to previous reels, this one was a lot more focused in my editing approach and goals with it. My past reels have lacked a context that I believe enhances and enriches this year’s demo reel. I deliberately tried to avoid the “montage effect” that led past reels to feel more like lots of random clips rather than a sampling of my body of work. While by no means have I “arrived” I am happier with this year’s offerings than previous years. While providing fast cuts that keep the viewer interested, I tried to not keep them too short so that the viewer understands what he or she is seeing. I also grouped the clips by project, with the goal of providing context.

The opening shot of my reel is a motion-controlled timelapse from an upcoming short film that will hopefully be finished before NAB. I tried to avoid including timelapse in my reel for the most part because I’m planning on making a reel just for timelapse later this year. The second clip is of Evan Doherty, one of Kansas City’s most talented young skaters who is now sponsored by Christian Hosoi. He is only 8 years old and is the youngest in the world to pull off a 720, or 2 full 360 degree rotations in the air. While primarily on the shoot for my photography, I used the KesslerCrane Pocket Dolly to pull off a few slider shots for Joseph Pollock, a frequent collaborator, to use in the skate films he was shooting for Evan.

The next batch of shots is from a wedding I shot in May 2011. I knew the couple, and it was a joy to shoot. It took place on her parents farm, a pristine and picturesque location. It was also the first wedding I shot in CineStyle, which proved to be quite handy in the color correcting and grading process. The next batch of clips were shot during filming of Major League Gaming’s web series, “Dr. Pepper Ultimate Gaming House.” Gamers would submit videos of their sub-standard gaming setups, and the cast of U.G.H. visits the lucky winner and remodels the room, furnishing it as well as decking out the room with gaming equipment from their sponsors. This was my first season on the show, and Joseph Pollock and I were usually doing Second Unit Photography. It was a pleasure to work with Director of Photography Adam Zebersky, as well as the entire cast and crew.

One of my simultaneously favorite and horrifying jobs from 2011 was filming and editing a project for KesslerCrane. They make a lot of high quality filmmaking gear – sliders, cranes, and more – all topnotch at an affordable price. Eric Kessler was kind enough to take an interest after seeing my original “RAW Timelapse Workflow Tutorial.” Born out of a desire to help others through a workflow I’d come up with, Eric contacted me, and commissioned a second version of the tutorial. The second version focuses on the workflow from beginning to end, not just post-production. It was also the first time I’d ever been the on-camera talent. Scary, but I did get through it. Some even liked the final result! I enjoyed putting it together for KesslerCrane, and it has helped many.

Major League Gaming has been a big part of my growth, creatively and technically. I was first hired on to their live event staff in August of 2006. Having zero experience, they put me on the main Halo broadcast switching on the TriCaster. MLG has been a pioneer in internet broadcasting, both reaching a great demographic for advertisers as well as putting up record-setting numbers for online viewership. These days I’m not on the broadcast anymore, but am brought in as a freelance camera operator. I shoot lots of b-roll of the StarCraft 2 stage, getting shots of the players and much more. It’s been quite enjoyable, the StarCraft 2 community is fun to observe and film. I’ll be in this role again next week at their Winter Arena championships in Columbus, Ohio.

The next clips in the sequence are from “99%,” a collaborative documentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement. I’m contributing clips from Kansas City, and made a trip up to Des Moines for “Occupy The Caucus.” Seeing a diverse amount of opinions about them has made this a very interesting documentary subject. It’s also the first documentary feature film I’ve ever shot for, and I have already learned a great deal from the experience. What I have shot so far is a combination of sit-down interviews and live events. The next set of clips were from a wedding I shot in southeast Wisconsin.

My 2012 reel closes out with a job that completely came out of left field. I’ve been a happy user of Red Giant Software’s many offerings for a number of years. I’d also been following Aharon Rabinowitz on Twitter for some time, and had many good conversations. I first found him through his Creative Cow tutorials. He’s made many more since then, which have been super helpful. He asked me if I wanted in on the product video for Red Giant’s “Magic Bullet Denoiser II.” I enjoyed version 1 of that software and happily jumped on the opportunity. Premiere and the Dell workstation proved especially useful in this regard as I was able to quickly compress dailies and send them privately for Aharon to review and give me feedback.

A contextual approach, both to this year’s reel, as well as accompanying article, are the name of the game for me this year. By no means have I plateaued in any way – I’m still not satisfied with my work. Fearing becoming stagnant, creatively and professionally, is a good motivator. However, I’m reminded of the oft-quoted statement from Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”


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