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Putting Pasta on People

Putting Pasta on People

This one goes back to early 1995, I know this because I found the stills in an old photo album.  There's another photo I'm looking for, it's a polaroid of me wearing the first attempt at Pasta People-  a mask.  But you don't even know what I'm talking about yet.

I was building my Director's reel.  It was common then, and I'm sure is common now to create a reel of 'speculation' spots,  in hopes that an ad agency would hire me to direct.  I had shot, the previous year, a couple of pieces that were very well received by the people at Crossroads Films where I worked as a Production Assistant.  I didn't have any money, not really, and needed to find a way to do something on the cheap.  My wife and I had taken a mirror selfie a while earlier, wearing pasta shells on our faces.  I liked the image so we hung it up.  It's still hanging in our bathroom today.  So we can watch you pee.  With pasta on our noses.

Art Museum Director April Vasher-Dean and the author

Art Museum Director April Vasher-Dean and the author

The idea of doing something with this was creeping around my brain for a while.  I gathered up a bunch of packages of pasta and began hot-glueing them to one of those clear plastic masks.  It looked cool, but maybe a little too sinister.  Insert photo I can't find HERE.  

This is a different shot, but you get the idea... maybe

This is a different shot, but you get the idea... maybe

I think you'd agree, it just wasn't the right vibe.  A friend, a colleague, a buddy, Eric Barbella was busy building his reel as a makeup artist.  Eric was a very special person, sadly we lost him in the late 90's in a car accident.  I played briefly in a band with Eric and a guy named Tom.  Don't think I ever knew Tom's last name...  Weird.  It was fun playing with those guys!  Here's the only pic of us.  We played a couple of shows.  Eric went on to play in the band Touch Candy, they got pretty popular in LA for a while.  Sorry, I digress...

Electro-Fat:  Tom, Doyle, Eric circa '96

Electro-Fat:  Tom, Doyle, Eric circa '96

I spoke with Eric about the idea and he said we should try Bald Caps and apply the pasta to the caps.  So I went to North Hollywood and got the goods.  In the meantime I started making a suit and a dress out of paper table cloths.  The stuff is not very durable so I had to be very careful with it.  I feel like I managed pretty well.  There's a pretty major flaw in the piece though, other than the bad puns, you see the rolled out picnic cloth on the walls- For some reason I left a giant white seam down the middle.  It's draws your eye in like the flaw that it is.  Live and learn.  Which is, really, what this is all about.  I don't pretend that many people gave a crap about the pasta people spot, it was just something I did that I learned a lot from, and I'm hoping it informs and/or inspires you, dear reader, to experiment in whatever art form you choose.  So I had the wardrobe, the location- my 2 bedroom apartment's guest room, the set- a table, a vase and flower, the wall covering, and I also made a little rig to help move the camera.  It was ridiculous.  It sort of worked... it was a rollerskate bottom with a block of wood attached to it.  On top of the wood I had affixed a bolt that the camera could spin down on.  And I rolled it across a plank of wood to get a 'smooth' dolly in.  Well, you be the judge.  It was used for the first shots of the people. 

Speaking of the camera, this was the mid- 90's, in most of our opinions video was still crap.  There was a place in Hollywood that would process super 8 film.  I knew Kodachrome would give me some crazy popping reds, but I didn't realize just HOW much.  More about that in a minute.

I still have the super 8 camera I shot this on.  Brad Richards, a buddy from Michigan, gave it to me or I'm sure sold it to me extra cheap.  Brad was cool that way.  Thanks Brad

I still have the super 8 camera I shot this on.  Brad Richards, a buddy from Michigan, gave it to me or I'm sure sold it to me extra cheap.  Brad was cool that way.  Thanks Brad

So I shot this all on a super8 camera.  You younguns... you don't know how good we have it now.  I had no idea until I got my film back if I got ANYthing.  And we're talking at minimum a week- probably two.  I had them xfer the film right to 3/4" video where I would cut it together later.  The problem was, Kodachrome REALLY loved all the RED in my frame.  Ate it up and spat it back out. So for years, until recently, in fact, the only version of this piece I had was WAY too red.  I look at my recently color corrected version and think maybe I took too much red out... I was so tired of it all.  Anyway.  I couldn't afford proper color correction.  So I just lived with it.  

I don't think I realized at the time how off-putting puns can be.  I just sort of grew up with them.  They scooted around our house like verbal dust bunnies.  They're fun but it's hard not to think of them as a guilty pleasure.  I think they're fine in some instances, but I do think they hurt the piece.  When you rely on them for a gag, it does just that, limits the experience to a 'gag.'  Maybe you feel differently and that's ok.  I try to leave them out of my work now.  I think a stronger conceptual 'storytelling' angle might have helped.  It's not easy when you're so close to a project to be objective.  But it was fairly well received, I think people liked the look of it, the super 8 really forgives a lot.  When you shoot 35mm, or any larger format you see the dirt, you see the imperfections.  But with the grain of the tiny super8 image you lose a lot of the detail and that can work in your favor.  The natural super 8 'shake' that all plays into the odd style of the piece.  I was keeping this in mind when conceiving the spot, trying to see the tools I had and work backwards.  

Eric Barbella applying makeup to Candice Clark

Eric Barbella applying makeup to Candice Clark

Wish I'd gotten a full shot of Larry too...

Wish I'd gotten a full shot of Larry too...

Candice was a good sport.  She did some modeling and is an artist herself, so she was very easy to work with.  Eric always had something to add, some perspective, some ideas.  He was a very kind person, and very funny.  I really value people who are willing to turn a project into a collaboration, not just a 'gig.'  Eric was like that.  The Pasta Man was played by Larry Garcia.  I haven't spoken to Larry in years.  He was another sweet guy.  Out and very open about it, Larry had an easy going manner that made him the perfect choice for Candice's dinner date.  We shared a lot of laughs.

I do think the performances are on mark.  Though I should have found a better way to show them arranging the pasta on their plates, they are pretty quick with that.  But the smiles and the smooch at the end of the piece are real.  We only had one take, I wasn't cleaning that up and trying again, it just wouldn't work. 

The set.  Humble but proud.  Is that even possible?

The set.  Humble but proud.  Is that even possible?

I guess I rented a few C-stands, or borrowed them from Crossroads?  Here's the set.  Wasn't much.  I still use scoop lights (center, bottom)  they're at every hardware store, you just need to mind your light-color and use gels if the need be.

Just after the smooch.  Marinara sauce was everywhere.  When you're not eating it, just dealing with it...food is actually kind of nasty.

Just after the smooch.  Marinara sauce was everywhere.  When you're not eating it, just dealing with it...food is actually kind of nasty.

Are we done yet?  Truly Larry was over it at the end.

Are we done yet?  Truly Larry was over it at the end.

I always liked the 35mm stills from the shoot a little better than the piece itself.  I think a little more care + a little more money and I could have had a nice piece shot on 35.  I would have needed to go back to the creative though.  I really don't think it's strong enough.

A couple of funny footnotes.  After completing the piece and adding it to my Director's Reel I sent off a 1/2 (VHS) dub to the makers of the pasta I used, Anthony's Pasta.  I didn't necessarily expect them to jump up and down and want to USE the spot- it is a bit vulgar looking at the end there... but you never know.  You NEVER know.  It's always worth a shot.  In the mail, from Anthony's Pasta, about a month later was an envelope with coupons worth 25 cents off my next purchase.  A couple of them.  The same envelope they'd send to a little kid who drew a crayon picture of spaghetti... coupons!  I had a good laugh.  I guess it wasn't 'go time' for the spot.  ALSO years later I put the piece up on YouTube.  I had just used some opera piece I found on a CD at my local library and really never thought twice about it... I knew no one- no one really - just a handful of industry insiders would ever see it.  It was up on YouTube for a few months when I got a notice that it was banned in Germany.  I had to think about it.. WHY ?  Was it the marinara spill?  I'm going to guess that the recording came from a Deutsche Gramophone album or something... I'm sure it has to do with the music copyright.  Well, sorry Germany, you're missing out on some real cool stuff!  It was just after adding this piece that I got the gig to do a REAL commercial, one that went on cable nationwide...

The colors are a bit too muted, it's a little too dark.  I've got a shot of the table that should really be counter-clocked a few degrees.  I should have made a question mark out of the alphabet pasta...what else?  It's 100% ok to find flaws in your work.  That's how you learn.  This whole process, digging through my archives, is a blast.  It's useful too, it is helping me find my center.  It's helping me to orchestrate the next step in my 'making' endeavors.  It can be easy to get complacent.  I do enjoy my daily work- the bread and butter- but I want to do more like this - well, not EXACTLY like this.. but I think you know what I mean. 

Learning from Mark Story, Hollywood Commercial Production in the 1990's

Commercial Director Mark Story studies a script at Hollywood Center Studios, circa 1996

Commercial Director Mark Story studies a script at Hollywood Center Studios, circa 1996

I stumbled into the offices of Crossroads Films in the early 90's, resume in hand, looking for work.  Any work.  They were listed in a little booklet I bought at Samuel French Book Shop on Santa Monica Blvd. This is pre-internet folks, and a database of production company addresses is something that had to be purchased on paper.  I firmly believe that I would have NEVER gotten ANY work without going door to door.  Walking in, taking the occasional sideways glances and offhand "Good luck, buddy"s (i.e.: eating shit) from people was a necessary evil and one I think we avoid too often.

Crossroads struck me as immediately different.  Dru and Pam, the office staff there, welcomed me and said they might have something.  I can't remember if I came back or sat down for an interview there on the spot (with Doc) but shortly afterwards I was hired as the office runner.  I was given the task of driving around Los Angeles in circles all day delivering film, picking up coffees, lunch, dry cleaning... anything and everything that needed to be done...It was Heaven for me.  Except all the driving.  I was currently living in Huntington Beach- where my girlfriend- and soon to be wife was  - about a 90 minute drive through heavy traffic each way.  

Criminal, really, the available low quality uploaded version.  I was there, I saw the attention to detail.  I really hope there's a digital archive of this stuff somewhere.

One of the first jobs I had was taking 3/4" tape masters of Crossroads Films director commercials and compiling showreels.  PRE DIGITAL WORLD, people.  If I had to dub a THIRTY minute reel it took THIRTY MINUTES.  So I spent a lot of time watching commercials.  Like most people I hated ads.  They are, of course, or WERE the whole reason we have TV shows.  The narratives we consume are just placeholders for the products we're being sold.  But soon I saw that there was an art to effective condensed story-telling and the master of that medium I came to believe was Mark Story.  I watched, mouth open, often laughing aloud, every commercial I'd ever LIKED.  I couldn't wait to watch this guy at work.  And it wasn't long before I was loitering on set... taking my time with my errands so that I might soak up a little of his magic.  I soon left the office gig and began working on set, eventually doing some Assistant Camera work and then later, Directing a bit.

Video printout from VTR master Samy Gino (sp.?).  That's me with the clapper.  Below, the piece we were shooting.

Video printout from VTR master Samy Gino (sp.?).  That's me with the clapper.  Below, the piece we were shooting.

I'm not sure exactly how it is now, I've been away from Hollywood since 2001 but in the early 90's Directors were Kings.  I would arrive an hour or so before a Pre-Production meeting and prepare Mark's breakfast: A papaya half (minus the guts and seeds) filled with vanilla yogurt topped with fresh berries.  I'd have coffee ready and plenty of croissants or bagels for the Ad Agency folks.  Budgets were BIG back then.  REALLY BIG.  I don't know the numbers but there was A LOT OF MONEY floating around these productions.  Director Fees were in the thousands... per day... and it was common for crew members wages to be $500-$1000 a day, + overtime.  Production Assistants were on flat rates- $125-$175/day.  They could afford to keep everyone happy with papayas and croissants. 

No worries folks, Production is in control

No worries folks, Production is in control

There was a lot of stress and difficult times, for sure, but what I remember most really was the kindness.  Kindness from people like Assistant Camera Man Ron Raschke, who really took the time to explain things to me.  Me, fresh from the midwest, tail wagging, hungry for information.  Ron always had a smile and was ready to share.  Producer Peter Abraham as well.  Not much older than me and already producing Peter had (still does I'm sure) a deep understanding of the big picture.  I think that's what makes a good producer, in fact.  And   I was interested in EVERYthing.  The sets, the lighting, the way the grips were rigging stuff, costumes, dollies, cranes, but mostly in Mark's interaction with his talent.  He had a perverse relationship almost with 'characters.'  He was able to interpret and distill information in a very unique way.  The ads are ridiculously brief - 30 seconds.  It's almost over before you realize you're watching it but the characters and the material stick with you if it's handled well.  They said he could 'polish a turd' and I can testify in favor of that.  The ad agency folks would come to him with sometimes very inane ideas - I'd seen the scripts - I made the xeroxes!  And Mark was able to spin it, able to re-interpret it though his own lens and make it into art.  He had some kind of separation from other humans- I'm not sure where it comes from- but it helped him to inspire performances that I really don't think others could get.  (I've seen some of this in the work of Spike Jonze later on...) Mark was, in some ways, a difficult person to get to know- this is from the perspective of a Production Assistant at the time- so a lot of that in MY case is intentionally built into the system.  I soaked up everything I could when he was working.  In the ten years I lived and worked in LA I was around a LOT of directors and he, more than anyone else, inspired me to do the best work I could.  Not really in overt way, but just in the way that he worked.  Some people can just do great work and it inspires you.  They don't have to go around slapping you on the back proclaiming 'atta boy.'  That said, he was encouraging when I began directing little things, he seemed genuinely happy for me.  It's had to call him a mentor, really, he never sat down and told me WHY he did this or that, but I think you can make your own mentors just by observing, really observing.  I would encourage younger people starting out not to be put off by their perception of anyone's lack of interest.  If you observe someone working and you can take something from it.  Eat it up.  Your passion, the development of your craft, that only needs to be exciting to YOU, and you need to take control of it.  I cherish the moments on set while I was supposed to be running an errand or filling a cooler that I stood still, silent, in the dark, behind the lighting rigs and the set walls... listening to a director working with his actors... and then seeing the results.  Those moments inform my work today.  And they make me want to do better.

Checking the Assistant Camera changing bag for light leaks.  I only blew one roll of 35mm film in my years of changing magazines.  Thank God it was just raw stock.

Checking the Assistant Camera changing bag for light leaks.  I only blew one roll of 35mm film in my years of changing magazines.  Thank God it was just raw stock.

Big Boy with a camera- With Producer Kelly Christensen (right) filming Four Way Stop (1998)

Big Boy with a camera- With Producer Kelly Christensen (right) filming Four Way Stop (1998)

Since I was 16

17, making unpopular music

17, making unpopular music

It just occurred to me last week that I've essentially been doing the same thing since I was 16 years old-with varying degrees of success of course... That was the year I started making music- a crappy acoustic guitar from Sears and a tape deck with headphones plugged into the mic- ports... and the year I put my hands on a video camera for the first time.  It was a BETAmax camera and was part of the mountain of equipment that my media teacher, Russ Gibb (interesting guy, just ask google) was able to procure for his high schoolers in Dearborn, Michigan.  We'd go down to the Graystone Club in Detroit and document bands like The Buttonhole Surfers, Negative Approach and the Meat Puppets.  I guess I figured out what I liked and was able to stick with it.  It's hard work sometimes but I'm always grateful and always learning SOMEthing.

I had a very busy Spring/early Summer in 2017... things have finally slowed down enough to update the BLOG.  I had a half-dozen or so pieces to do for SUNY Potsdam- a piece highlighting the Arts, one or two for Education, one focused on Graduation, and another - in June - that chronicled the Spanish adventures of a Choral group from the Crane School of Music.  Back in early Spring I did a piece for Terra Science- they run science fairs in our region.  It was great fun to speak with so many people excited by Science.  This piece is here 

There was also another Arconic (Alcoa) job in the spring, I really like working with them.  It's always a challenge to work around big noisy equipment and the people are great.  A fun promotion for Potsdam Central Schools is coming soon.  I shot that in May as well.  On July 4 gathered footage for Tedra Cobb, who is running for Congress in my district.  I'm very excited about her prospects and she's been a wonderful person to work with.  The job was to grab a few good shots of her interacting with people, seems easy enough, but the parade moves FAST.  If you've ever been in it, you'll know... it seems so slow when you're sitting there watching...

I taught an Advanced Audio Production course in the spring- over at SUNY Potsdam.  It was a blast, finally, to see some of my students really take off.  One in particular, Adam Hammer, is also an arranger.  He has a bright future, I didn't really feel like I could teach him much, but I made the equipment available and occasionally offered suggestions.  There are others too, really doing interesting things and blessed with some great equipment.

I finished my own recording project the end of May, just as the semester was ending- bad timing-really- but I sometimes you can't control these things.  "The busier you are the busier you are."  I'm really happy with this record ( I always say that) but it's true.  It's a 2CD set- or just a monster download- depending on how you look at things.  The cover shows a cicada coming out of its shell, that's a little bit how I felt while making the album, without Jerod Sommerfeldt as a collaborator (don't worry he's on disc 2 w/ Stephen Bird doing improvisation).  I felt naked somehow, I'm sure it sounds like 'any old Utility Project album' to most but to me it was a bit of a departure.  I'll  include a taste of it here.  

49, making unpopular music

49, making unpopular music

I'm looking forward to some camping (i.e. not working) but even during the quiet moments I'm planning something.  Thinking about a way to share my love of the world.  I'm growing up a little bit.  I'm getting to be such a big boy!  I'm not so worried about how my work is received- the client needs to be happy of course- but my music- the video work I create on my own- as long as it's done with love there's nothing to worry about.  If people like it I get happy of course, but that's not the motivation.  Not at all.  

Listening Is Everything

Listening Is Everything

Listening. We say we do it, but do we really? Over the years I have found that listening is one of the most important, yet, underrated skills we can offer. There are many different kinds of listening and I've found myself valuing the skill more and more.

If you're an American, like me, you like to talk. You talk about many things. You find yourself endlessly fascinating. I know I do. I'm essentially talking right now. But with letters. The photo at the top is of yours truly conducting an interview during a recent science fair I was documenting. I was charged with the responsibility of creating an engaging promotional video for the company putting on the fair. I rounded up a dozen people during the fair and asked them a series of questions. I had no 'cheat sheet,' I had no list of questions, I just had, in my mind, a few things I wanted to speak with them about. People are naturally uncomfortable in front of a camera, they should be, frankly. I have found that having a real conversation with people, and REALLY listening, will give me the best results. If a subject speaks about something that needs a follow up, I am ready, I'm not scanning my 'to do' list for something to ask. I am engaged in conversation and I need to stay engaged, or they check out. I'm really happy with the Terra Science piece but it will have to wait, we're still awaiting final approval on the edit.

 

The link above is for a piece I created for SUNY Potsdam to promote their fabulous Education Department. I did this piece a couple of days later. I thought what might be effective, instead of lavish B-roll (there IS a time for that, surely) we would focus on the students, on their faces, their eyes, and what they have to say. I usually speak to people at a slight angle off camera - it makes it easier to have a conversation. For this piece, though, I played peek-a-boo from behind the lens. This was very effective, I think, the students really opened up about their passion for teaching. And the piece is sparse. Just a grey seamless on a stand, a subject, and their thoughts. I try to keep things light and cheerful while I speak with people, they're already a bit on edge being in front of the camera. It's a joy getting to know people, even briefly, people are so different, so unique, and EVERYone has something to say. It's not always easy to get it out of them, but there's something interesting inside of everyone. The people who are the most guarded, who don't really want to talk. They often provide gems, if you can extract... that's the challenge.

Another kind of listening I do is related to the Audio Production courses I teach. I have my students perform listening exercises. You can do it too! It's free! Unless you are taking my class. That costs money. I have my students, at the beginning of the semester, sit somewhere, usually outside, and listen for fifteen minutes or so. They then tell me all of the things they heard, what it sounded like, where the sounds were coming from and what the sounds made them think about. It's amazing how limited our vocabularies are for describing sound. We often are forced to invent words. Why would this be? Is our hearing not equal to our sight? Think of the number of words we use to describe the way things appear... now thing about describing the way things sound. Critical listening is, of course, a necessary component in a student's experience producing audio. If you can't describe a car driving past, how can I trust you to record and react to a cello and violin playing together?

I've also recently been playing in an improvisational music group, there are no charts, no set songs, nothing, just what we create on the spot. Listening is the only way. I can't predict anything. I listen to my fellow players and they listen to me. We ONLY react. The few times I've tried to assert myself...'I'm going to do THIS' are regrettable. It never works. You just have to have faith and go with the flow. 

We take many cues in life from the things we hear, from their location, their volume, the quality of the sound... We react to these sounds without even knowing it. We are often informed or moved by hearing what others say. Why is this being said? What does the person mean? We have a habit of taking initiative, speaking our minds, making a point (clearly, there's a time for this). But take a moment. Sit and listen, you'll be glad you did.

 

Contrasts

Happy 2017 to you all, 2016 was a busy and fruitful year, I had the pleasure, just after creating a blustery snowy New Year's piece for SUNY Potsdam, of traveling to the other side of the planet with my family.  It was an incredible journey, one that will stay with me forever I am sure.  It was quite surreal to come back from a morning surf and see on Facebook, the New Year's piece.  

It was a fun but challenging shoot, I do love working 'in weather' but it's important to protect your equipment.  I kept having to wipe my lens as the flakes accumulated.  We had a few fits and starts with the soundtrack, Tyler Nappo, a young trumpet master provided the soundtrack.  The feeling was that his solo rendering was a bit too dark.  I agreed.  It was nice but the solo instrument provided a sort of isolation, something the client wasn't looking for.. luckily Tyler had, two years earlier, arranged and recorded his own quartet.  This worked just fine, I simply made sure sync looked ok on the final note, this is how we conceived the piece anyway.  To have the player of the music revealed in the snow, at the end.  I added some nat. sound from the B-roll to sell the 'outside'  He was a good sport and froze his hands for his art.  Good man.

Tyler Nappo, right, freezing his fingers

Tyler Nappo, right, freezing his fingers

Contrast the above to... this.  Two weeks in Australia, exploring tide pools on the beach, surfing every morning, hitting the bush at night to look for honey gliders and ring tail possums.  Visiting nature preserves, and enjoying the local beverages.  It was tough coming home, but we're here and we're ready for 2017 and all it has to offer.  Nice to have a break from work.  Nice to refuel on the sights and sounds of a completely different environment.  Plenty of eye and ear candy at the Beijing airport for our layover, plenty of soul crushing white water to paddle through at the local surf break, and plenty of perspective on environment - both social and natural.

Lovely Lorne, about 2 hours West of Melbourne

Lovely Lorne, about 2 hours West of Melbourne

My morning routine for two weeks.  I could do for this as a regular thing

My morning routine for two weeks.  I could do for this as a regular thing

Reconnecting with a dear old friend

Reconnecting with a dear old friend

Grateful

Looking forward to more creative problem solving  in the new year!

Looking forward to more creative problem solving  in the new year!

So grateful to all of my clients and collaborators for a fantastic year.  I get to do the work I love.  I get to live in an amazing place and interact with amazing people.  Like the Adirondack Mountains, 2016 had its peaks and valleys, there is no doubt.  I thought I'd share some of my favorite events from the year.  I'm afraid it might read like a Children's book, as I recount the months, but here goes:  

In January and February we were hard at work collecting (some) and editing the material that would become the Oral History Project for SUNY Potsdam.  I just learned yesterday that the project earned a Bronze Award for CASE District II  CASE (The Council for Advancement and Support of Education) the international professional industry association for all things Advancement related.  Insiders will know this is a big deal, no one else will care.  But hey...  I care!

Oral History Project Physical Product, the audio also exists digitally on bandcamp.  

Oral History Project Physical Product, the audio also exists digitally on bandcamp.  

In March and April I was pretty busy with the 200th Birthday video material- again for SUNY Potsdam, releasing The Empress of Ireland, a rock opera of sorts under the name Utility Project, and screening a video piece created in 2015 at the LOKO Festival for the Arts, Cicada Psalm.  The links are below.

From Watertown Daily Times + below

From Watertown Daily Times + below

May and June I was busy with Alcoa, with a piece focused on work, life balance.  Something we all can relate to, here's a still of me on site.  This is all INTERNAL communication, so it's not available to the public, but trust me, it's compelling.  :  )  

Geared up!  Some of this machinery is LOUD.  

Geared up!  Some of this machinery is LOUD.  

In July and August I got busy with some of Jerod Sommerfeldt's music.  I created a video companion for his album of electronic music.  This was a  fun experiment.  I worked on digitally degrading images.  Simple things like fan blades, sunlight on a window and then enlarging and enlarging until the image was pixelated and destroyed.  They create their own motion when you zoom in far enough.  Here's an example.  Clearly it's not for everyone, but experiments like these are crucial to keeping me inspired, keeping me aware of some of the more basic -but important-  components of the visual world.... texture, color, form, motion.

I was VERY busy in September and October, putting the finishing touches on two Campaign Culmination pieces, screening For the Love of the Mambo at the Roxy Theater and teaching an Audio Production course at SUNY Potsdam.  Here are a couple of links to that material.  It's always such a pleasure talking to students and alums at Potsdam.  Everyone has a story.  EVERYONE.  And I enjoy hearing them.  We also did a few spinoffs, these came out in October I believe.  I also did a Safety Video for Arconic (sister company to Alcoa).  Again, internal material.  It was a fun job, a little different, with shot lists, and scripts, and a voice over.  Typically it's a one camera interview setup.  The trailer for For the Love of the Mambo is horribly out of date, it contains NONE of the color correction or sound mixing that are present in the final product.  Nonetheless you get an idea of the SCOPE of the project.

November and December saw the release of the Potsdam Proud piece shot in October.  Busy FALL!  This piece just took off, um, literally.  Last month's blog has plenty of my gabbin' about it.  A LOT of fun.  Can't wait to do more like this.  LOTS of views, LOTS of shares +/-500 shares on Facebook alone. It made me very happy.  I also did a fun little pro bono shoot to help publicize the Potsdam High School French Exchange Program.  There's a fun Happy New Year piece coming for SUNY Potsdam but I will wait to share any stills, etc from that until it's up.  I got to work with one of my favorite musicians, a young trumpet player named Tyler Nappo (who also plays on Empress of Ireland- and the new album).  You'll see - and hear- it soon.  

Happy New Year everyone!  Thank you for spending a little time with Doyle Dean Video.   I couldn't do it without you.  Well, I could, but it would be lonely.  Thank you for keeping me company.

Playing at The Buccaneer Lounge in December with Jerod Sommerfeldt (left) and Stephen Bird (right)  We improvise electronics, drums, and bass.  Album coming in the Spring, I believe.

Playing at The Buccaneer Lounge in December with Jerod Sommerfeldt (left) and Stephen Bird (right)  We improvise electronics, drums, and bass.  Album coming in the Spring, I believe.

Rarely does everything go as planned

Mid-way through lift-off the drone cam captures the new Performing Arts Center in Potsdam along with- oops bottom right- the crew!  

Mid-way through lift-off the drone cam captures the new Performing Arts Center in Potsdam along with- oops bottom right- the crew!  

But on this beautiful afternoon in October everything fell into place.  I'd never worked with a drone before, there were a lot of moving parts, most of Potsdam's Crane Chorus, the Team NV dance troupe, and the sun was beginning to set and holy crap, a drone makes a lot of noise.  Looking at it now I sort of can't believe we were able to pull it off.  I thank Mindy at Potsdam's Public Affairs for having faith.  The folks at Railroad Productions did a great job manipulating the drone, and Jerod Sommerfeldt captured live sound so that I didn't have to worry about that either.

One surprise was how LOUD the drone is.  I had no idea.  We planned to capture sound - Team NV chanting as they dance "Potsdam," Crane Chorus echoing "Potsdam...."  But the only thing you could hear during rehearsals were the spinning blades of the drone.  So we got the take we needed - for picture- then, as the sun went down captured sound.  I was pretty amazed at how well we were able to fake sync.  What you see and hear were recorded about 20 minutes apart.  Thank you magic of filmmaking!  I'm such a goofball I had the rhythm way off while recording the sound- Jerod - and some members of the Chorus had to correct me... 

Team NV was so great to work with.  They are a student group but are truly professionals.  Crane Chorus as well, under Dr. Francom, receptive, focused, determined to get it right.  That's yours truly center frame pretending not to worry about losing the sun in three minutes.

Team NV was so great to work with.  They are a student group but are truly professionals.  Crane Chorus as well, under Dr. Francom, receptive, focused, determined to get it right.  That's yours truly center frame pretending not to worry about losing the sun in three minutes.

Corey Williams, of Railroad Productions, on left, manipulates the drone, Jerod Sommerfeldt, crouching, center, capturing sound.  And Molly, I think, taking this pic.

Corey Williams, of Railroad Productions, on left, manipulates the drone, Jerod Sommerfeldt, crouching, center, capturing sound.  And Molly, I think, taking this pic.

I pitched the idea in response to a request by Mindy Thompson of Potsdam's Public Affairs Dept., every year SUNY Central creates a video compilation featuring footage from each campus.  Mindy wanted to show off the PAC, I wanted to show - in a small way at least- the traditional married with the contemporary.  Potsdam is a lot of things to a lot of people.  One thing it is to me is expressed in this piece.  Mutual respect between these disciplines.  That's important.  The Chorus is a celebrated part of the Potsdam legacy.  Team NV is a viable and energetic dance group, relatively new, but still established as an artistic format for students here.  It's entirely possible for a student to be a member of both.  I teach an Audio Production course and three of my students are members of Team NV.    

As mentioned above, it's rare, for me anyway... that everything comes together this way.  I often shoot interviews, gather B-roll, run sound, create a soundtrack even, all by myself.  I don't have a clear pre-conceived notion of what I'll end up with.  Running on faith + experience I'm able- I hope - to be true to a project's mission and reflect the ideas accurately as told to me by my subjects.  So this one was a little different, we had a crew!  and it started with discussion and storyboards, ended up with a shoot day and the sun fading fast.  We had a little trouble coordinating the movement of the drone with the movements of the dancers and the chorus, but after a few takes we had it.  

They're getting a lot of views, a lot of shares.  I hope it cultivates and perpetuates the positive energy we put out there while making it.  I certainly had a blast.  I'm eager to do it again.  Well, maybe not THIS... or maybe this... in the snow!

Storyboard 1

Storyboard 1

Storyboard 2 

Storyboard 2 

My original idea had us procuring a golf cart in order to move the camera on a horizontal plane before takeoff, Corey and Molly assured me that this wouldn't be necessary- the drone was willing and able to make these moves...

Storyboard 3

Storyboard 3

I do make music but rarely do I need to communicate in THIS way.  Glad that Dr. Francom resisted making fun of my chicken scratch hack notation.

I do make music but rarely do I need to communicate in THIS way.  Glad that Dr. Francom resisted making fun of my chicken scratch hack notation.

There's nothing wrong with orchestrating a little campus unity.  Sometimes all we need is a common cause.

There's nothing wrong with orchestrating a little campus unity.  Sometimes all we need is a common cause.

Working in the Snow with Blue Suits (and Blue Fingers)

The camera is hidden in my down hood, in my hand.  The dancers were frozen, so were we, but we had a blast.  Blue suits=dance students, me, far left, Jennette Tario,  Kerri Canedy (choreographer)  John Balderston, Claude Mumbere, Erin Connelly, Michael Orlando, Charlie Pepiton (actor), and Selina French (makeup/wardrobe).  I hope I got the dancers' names correct!

The camera is hidden in my down hood, in my hand.  The dancers were frozen, so were we, but we had a blast.  Blue suits=dance students, me, far left, Jennette Tario,  Kerri Canedy (choreographer)  John Balderston, Claude Mumbere, Erin Connelly, Michael Orlando, Charlie Pepiton (actor), and Selina French (makeup/wardrobe).  I hope I got the dancers' names correct!

Hard to believe it's been nearly three years since we shot "Resonance."  Kerri Canedy is a fine choreographer and friend.  We had wanted to find a way to work together.  We started thinking about projecting video onto dancers, live, but the hardware at the University where she teaches was rather limited.  The idea emerged that we should film the entire project and then project the finished piece.  I thought about having them dance in front of a blue screen... then the thought of erasing a dancer's body and replacing it with moving video started to appeal to me.  I pitched it to Kerri and she became exited about the prospect.  She had a small budget, enough to buy some blue suits, and believe me, after a couple of tests and then the actual shoot-inside a library, on a stage, and out in the snow, the feet were wearing off of these things.  

We got some press too, it's always a good idea to let people know when you're shooting something a little 'different'  I think Jason Hunter won an award for this shot.

We got some press too, it's always a good idea to let people know when you're shooting something a little 'different'  I think Jason Hunter won an award for this shot.

We shot during two days, I think, the idea was to have a sort of 'history of modern dance' playing on the dancers' bodies while our figure, Charlie, watches on.  Charlie is not REALLY an elderly man, he was made up to be.  It just seemed right- to have someone who has 'seen' this evolution, watch it take place within the dancers.  The five dancers were selected by Kerri- they enrolled in a special projects course with her and had very little time to work out a few progressions before we needed to shoot- there was another production occupying the stage we would need.  We got REALLY lucky with the weather.  Blizzards aren't so rare up here, but you can't schedule one!  We're having one today, that's what made me think of this project.  

Here's a snippet of the test- sometimes it's difficult to repeat something magical that happens during a test.  I wish I knew how to capture lightning in a bottle.  All you can really do is learn from it, see if you can use it for something else, and move on.  There are certainly some things I like better about this informal test.  You can't have it all.  Well, maybe you can....  I'll keep trying.  We learned a few things from the test, what worked, what didn't.  I really like the 2-D effect that takes place.  You get a real flattening of the bodies from this.  It might be nice to experiment with the opposite- overlay some video and then apply a convex/concave effect to it...

There's something simple and beautiful about the footage before adding video.  

There's something simple and beautiful about the footage before adding video.  

We had a great team of dancers, I never heard any complaints as we shot for an hour or two in the blizzard.  They were committed, and importantly, they were aware that we weren't going to be done in 10 minutes.  Selina did an amazing job with Charlie, I really don't think you'd guess he's only 30 +/-.

We faced many challenges during the shoot, no doubt, but a good deal of challenges were ahead of me when I moved into the edit.  Kerri supplied me with the names of dancers and choreographers, but I had to do a lot of digging around in a quest for interesting footage to overlay.  Where to put it?  How to position it?  These were decisions that took time, and as I was still using Final Cut 7 then I had to render or export every short sequence just to get a good look.

Dances are a lot of fun to edit.  It's not like sports - where you have a one-off never repeated event.  Dances are a series of repeated movements.  This made it relatively easy to cut, as I always knew what was coming next.  There were nuances to each performance of course, that's what kept it interesting.

Once it was complete we projected it to a full house at the Spring Dance Recital.  It was very well received and it was my pleasure to take the stage and bow, something I don't think I've ever really done...not in that sort of environment.  I'm still a bit surprised that it hasn't had much of a life online.  You never know what people will go crazy for... You really never know what will have 'Resonance.'  

I guess I should mention that I borrowed one of the blue suits to make a video for my friend Kjehl's album a year later.  THIS one's not for everyone.  Some perhaps disturbing imagery?  I don't know.  I know the clown freaked some people out.  I can testify that those blue suits are THIN.  I was fully clothed underneath and still froze.  Some great clown makeup from Kerri's husband Todd Canedy.

The Shooting Script, Race, and another forgotten indie

I carried this copy of the Four Way Stop script with me through hell and high water, we had them both, and everything in between, while making a forgotten indie film.

I carried this copy of the Four Way Stop script with me through hell and high water, we had them both, and everything in between, while making a forgotten indie film.

I was reminded, while working with Arconic last week (that's a new division of Alcoa), on a safety video - what it was like to work within the non-doc format.  It's pretty rare that I storyboard or script anything, but this recent project required a little bit of both.  This experience took me back to the only narrative feature film I've made, Four Way Stop (1998, 16mm).  It lived a short life at a couple of film festivals, film markets, and on British TV.  Wasn't quite what we all had dreamed of when we embarked on the project.  You don't ever hear about these projects because I guess we prefer success? stories...ha ha.  BUT it was an amazing learning experience and I don't regret anything.  I made the best film I could have at the time.  I had a great crew and a great cast.  And I'm grateful, eternally, for the investors who backed the project.

We got some good press while filming, this ran in the Detroit News

We got some good press while filming, this ran in the Detroit News

It was interesting flipping through the script thinking about the neurotic 29 year old I was doing my best to make sense of the film and of the film-making process.  It was, to be honest, one of the most wonderful, joyful experiences I've ever had, while at the SAME time, one of the most painful.  Strange how some experiences can embody such a range of emotion.  There's plenty to say here, as I reflect, but one thing I came away with after it was all over was that perhaps, just perhaps, I didn't need to treat the script as a definitive document for the film.  I think I might have gotten something a little more interesting if I'd loosened up my reigns on the word-for-word recitation of the text and thought more about the 'meaning,' maybe had a little more fun with it and improvised just a little.  Hard to do though when you're shooting film.  Film is EXPENSIVE.

Trying to keep track of all the characters was a challenge in this film, as four narratives overlap.

Trying to keep track of all the characters was a challenge in this film, as four narratives overlap.

"Lily and the kids" in the car.  (L-R Meghan Oglesby, Felicia Muse, Chase Oglesby, Tristan Esby)

"Lily and the kids" in the car.  (L-R Meghan Oglesby, Felicia Muse, Chase Oglesby, Tristan Esby)

Another lesson I learned was a tough one and it came up during the casting sessions.  I had several, a couple in Los Angeles, where I lived at the time, one in Chicago, and another in Detroit.  I was looking for a racially diverse cast.  There is nothing in the script to indicate race or that deals with black/white/other.  That is specifically WHY I wanted a diverse cast.  You can do SO much through casting.  You can take on a racial divide simply by presenting an unspoken integration amongst your characters.  Of the few things I feel actually WORK in Four Way Stop, it is this- We experience the lives of people, it doesn't matter what they LOOK like, it doesn't matter what they are on the SURFACE.  They are humans.  Isn't this what drives our hearts to feel?  Our minds to think?  Sometimes race must be taken head-on, there is no doubt, but that wasn't what drove my project.  My narrative has a different message, but a subtle but important statement- and I see this so rarely- is a genuine equal treatment within the story of people- be they white, black, brown....some times you have to work to get to this. 

Most of the crew, some of the cast.  Another lesson learned... FIND A TIME to make sure EVERYONE is in a photo together.... Rear- Grips Tom Beene,  Doug Grimm; next row fwd Me, Grip Mitchell Speers; next row fwd Art Director Dante Aguiliar, Gopher Steve Martinez, Producer Kelly Christiansen, Anthony Dixon, actor/pizza man Ryan Cascarelli, Nick Gilhool, Director's Asst Dara Rosenzweig, Soundman Kevin Fitzgerald, actor Tamara Stackpoole, actor Reagan Vasher, Prod Mgr Phyllis Cavak, Asst Director Darius Carter, actor Candice Clark, 2nd AD Sarah Correll, hair/makeup Kimberly Buskirk, Script Super Michael White Front row: Grip Vinny Campbell, Shelly Gurzi, Joe Kessler, Art Dept Regina "Queenie" Cinta, Gopher Nolan Hack, Boom/PA everything Dave Nico

Most of the crew, some of the cast.  Another lesson learned... FIND A TIME to make sure EVERYONE is in a photo together.... Rear- Grips Tom Beene,  Doug Grimm; next row fwd Me, Grip Mitchell Speers; next row fwd Art Director Dante Aguiliar, Gopher Steve Martinez, Producer Kelly Christiansen, Anthony Dixon, actor/pizza man Ryan Cascarelli, Nick Gilhool, Director's Asst Dara Rosenzweig, Soundman Kevin Fitzgerald, actor Tamara Stackpoole, actor Reagan Vasher, Prod Mgr Phyllis Cavak, Asst Director Darius Carter, actor Candice Clark, 2nd AD Sarah Correll, hair/makeup Kimberly Buskirk, Script Super Michael White Front row: Grip Vinny Campbell, Shelly Gurzi, Joe Kessler, Art Dept Regina "Queenie" Cinta, Gopher Nolan Hack, Boom/PA everything Dave Nico

The tough lesson came from a conversation with a fantastic actor, Anthony Dixon, who arrived at the casting session in Detroit.  At the time Anthony was playing George Washington Carver at Greenfield Village in Dearborn.  Anthony is African-American and almost didn't audition.  He came along with his (white) friend that day and thought, "ah what the heck, I'm here, might as well."  I wasn't present, I just watched video of the reads in my apartment in California.  Anthony was fabulous, he was ALIVE, he was FUNNY, he was (and I presume still is) a great actor.  He almost didn't audition because the casting call said nothing about wanting BLACK actors.  I was horrified when he told me this.  But as it sank in I understood.  I thought, crap, have I derailed my entire casting process by not being upfront that I WANT A DIVERSE CAST?!  I thought writing the description as "male, early 20's" meant everyone who fit that.. but I understand.  Anthony was tired of showing up, seeing the look on agents/producers faces, "Ohhhh.... yeah.... well...you're .... not really... um.... what we're looking for...."  I get it, but it took a little while to wrap my head around it.  Turns out his friend didn't get the part but Anthony did.  And he stole the show.

Anthony Dixon and Nick Gilhool - two great actors

Anthony Dixon and Nick Gilhool - two great actors

 

It's been almost twenty years since this project.  I think of all the other writers/producers/directors like me who made films that year.  Two of them (Bo Mehrad and Amanda Doss) became very good friends, they're still in the business.  He's an editor, she's a producer, both in NYC.  We came to the film market in New York full of dreams, a giant project in our hands, and a couple more in our pockets.  No idea what the future would hold, but sure that we would continue to work.  Sure that we had stories to tell.  And images that needed to be captured.  

"Directing the shit out of it" me in white. Foreground is Joe Kessler, a very talented  DP, shot Reno 911 in the early 2000's among other things, Asst Camera Shelly Gurzi.  Actors Ryan Luciani, now a filmmaker and musician, and Alex Kirschenbaum also a filmmaker, background

"Directing the shit out of it" me in white. Foreground is Joe Kessler, a very talented  DP, shot Reno 911 in the early 2000's among other things, Asst Camera Shelly Gurzi.  Actors Ryan Luciani, now a filmmaker and musician, and Alex Kirschenbaum also a filmmaker, background

In Favor of Physical Product in our Digital Age

The cover of the Potsdam Oral History Project CD

The cover of the Potsdam Oral History Project CD

It was a bit like Christmas in September the other morning when I stopped by the Advancement office at SUNY Potsdam.  The fresh smell of cardboard in the air, the soft smooth sound of a couple of CD's in their cases sliding out of the box they were shipped in.  I know as a culture we have largely gone digital and moved away from physical product but I found it very fulfilling to hold in my hand something that I had worked hard on for many years- along with the other producer on the project Deb Dudley.  They only pressed 200 CD's, they're individually numbered- so they have inherent value, right?  Some folks might fight me on this but I say YES.  Yes, they have value.

six panel

six panel

I started conducting video interviews- and later- some exclusively committed to audio- about eight years ago when we moved here.  I spoke with faculty, alums, students, staff, really anyone they'd allow me to speak with about their experiences at the school.  It's used for marketing of course, but I see it as more than that, I have to, or I'd go insane.  It's about learning.  EVERYONE has a story, EVERYONE can teach you something.  It's not always obvious at the time.  But we learn from other people and their experiences.  It builds empathy, it builds understanding, it is an opportunity to share a laugh, and once in a while, a tear. 

Nice to be credited, it doesn't always happen

Nice to be credited, it doesn't always happen

The material has been available online for a couple of months, but it feels real now, feels substantial.  It's an album!  SUNY Potsdam dropped an album!  These CDs were presented to donors at a dinner- just as a little surprise in their goodie bags-very nice.  I had a wonderful message from one of the interviewees, who happens to be a neighbor.  I dropped of a CD at her house and she thought it was fantastic, said she sat and listened and really REALLY enjoyed it, that made my day.  She's getting up there in her years and I don't think she's inclined to go to bandcamp and download some digi files.  Putting a CD in her player?  She'll do that.  We absolutely would NOT have reached her without physical product.  I know she's just one person, I know there was certainly some expense in creating the discs- it's really quite affordable these days actually- but it was worth it I believe.  It was worth it to be able to reach out to those involved, those who shared their stories with me.  Aren't they the ones who will most appreciate what OTHER folks had to say about their Alma Mater.

TC Boyle, Stephanie Blythe... we've got stars!

TC Boyle, Stephanie Blythe... we've got stars!

I look forward to more interviews, more 'brain-picks,' more opportunities to learn.  To fill my head and to fill my heart.  I'm happy that we can share these stories, there are 66 of them on the CD!  Go get yourself one.. or head to the bandcamp site and build your own little Potsdam Podcast.  Physical Product isn't ALWAYS needed, but in this particular case- it was a great call.    Oh and speaking of self-promotion?  Send me a message and let's figure out how we can do something like THIS for YOUR organization.  What a great way to enhance corporate- or other- identity.

Thanks September, It's Been Swell... Can I Sleep Now?

A month of calendar carnage.  

A month of calendar carnage.  

We say farewell to September 2016 today.  Thank you, it's been fun, but I'm tired.  Three kids started classes in three different schools; I am teaching an Audio Production course; with SUNY Potsdam's Oral History project we produced physical product, 300 limited edition CD's, and today at 3pm at Snell Theater in Potsdam we celebrate the end of the Take the Lead Campaign - I produced two videos for this event.  Oh, and in my spare time, I was able to drop a digital single- Utility Project's cover of a Watson Family traditional tune "Groundhog."  Oh yeah, and on the 26th we screened For the Love of the Mambo to a crowded Roxy Theater Cinema 10 event.

Adjusting the mic for Sekayi Williams.  

Adjusting the mic for Sekayi Williams.  

The month began with interviews and B-roll, some students don't show, some people are not where they're supposed to be.... It doesn't always go smoothly and it's hard to manage at times being a crew of one.  I had a sinus infection at the beginning of the month which caused some vertigo, something I'd never experienced before.  Try shooting and conducting an interview when you feel like the room is spinning.  I know, regular life for 'rock docs.'  And then about a week ago I sprained my ankle playing basketball.  It's much better now, but I was still gathering B-roll at the time, hobbling on crutches with a camera bag in tow.  

My favorite moments from the month?  I think I had a few... as mentioned before I never tire of witnessing hard working professors convey the joy of learning.... I also had a few surprises, the most dramatic was a student who- now I try not to judge, I do, but a student who I honestly didn't want to interview, after an initial meeting I thought we were both wasting our time, but he proved me wrong.  In a BIG way.  (Incidentally he's not pictured here...) Some people blow your mind with their ability to express themselves concisely and sincerely.  This student did just that.  The piece wouldn't be the same without him.  And I'm glad I ignored my first impression and charged ahead into the abyss.  

With Jason Kryszak, man is my hair really that grey?

With Jason Kryszak, man is my hair really that grey?

October promises to be another busy month.  A job w/ Alcoa is coming and I believe I'lll be cutting some spinoffs of the SUNY piece for the web.  AND a piece for PACES.  Maybe there will be some time for more music this month.  I really hope so.   

 

Props for the Profs

Dr. Jerod Sommerfeldt teaches an electronic music programming course at crane

Dr. Jerod Sommerfeldt teaches an electronic music programming course at crane

I've had a frantic few weeks as I gather footage and begin editing two pieces that will be projected at an event at SUNY Potsdam- wrapping up the Take the Lead Campaign... a longer form video will also be done in the coming weeks along the same lines.  And I just sprained my ankle playing basketball.  I'm hobbling around on crutches, camera bag around my shoulder.  I'm looking good.

As I gather footage in classrooms, rehearsal rooms, in labs, and in the field... I often find myself witnessing something wonderful.  A professor fully engaged with his or her class.  Above, Jerod, a friend and collaborator, is seen in his classroom teaching music students.  The utter joy of sharing - this is the human experience!- is undeniable.  Below, Fadi, is seen with some Chemistry students.  Watching these people work, hearing the students 'get it' for the first time, listening to their questions.. the professor's answers, or even better, their leading questions.... it really makes my job fun.  It already was fun.  But this makes it even better.

Why not take a minute and reflect on your experience in college or high school.  I'm talking to you, dear blog reader, yes, you.   Was there a teacher or professor that made a difference?  Did you ever let that person know?  It is important to do that.  About ten years ago I tracked down a film theory professor I had at Wayne State University- in Detroit- James Morrison (no, not from The Doors).  James Morrison made a difference to me.  He examined the films of Hitchcock, Welles, Capra, and many others.  One class period we'd watch a FILM, a real film, projected... and the next we'd talk about it.  I knew I liked film, he taught me to love it.  I tracked him down and sent him a note, telling him just that.  Take a minute.  Give your Profs the Props.  You'll be glad you did.  And you know what?  So will they. 

Dr. Fadi Bou-Abdallah teaches a chemistry course at suny potsdam

Dr. Fadi Bou-Abdallah teaches a chemistry course at suny potsdam

...and Audio

I shoot a lot of video, and edit as well, but I haven't really spoken much about the music that I also make.  I have been pretty obsessed since my teenage years with both.  I played in bands most of my life, largely as a drummer, but in the past twenty years many different instruments, becoming just good enough to - maybe- be dangerous.  I like to think of myself as a virtu-so-so.  I still play live, a little, in fact Jerod Stephen Doyle- an improv instrumental rock(?) trio has a show Oct 14 9pm at the Buc in Canton, New York.

It's a long story that I won't get into now, but I began recording as Utility Project back in 2001.  The photo, here, is of me getting some guitar down on the most recent album about a month ago.  I teach at SUNY Potsdam - an Audio Production course.   I also create a lot of the music that I use in the videos I produce.  Most recently, about a week ago, I got together with Harrison Park, a great improvisor on the violin- and Crane student.  He came down to play the school's Alma Mater a few different ways and while he was in the studio I had him lay down a little fiddle on a cover of the Watson Family (traditional) tune "Groundhog."  I discovered this tune about 25 years ago at my (then) local library in Santa Monica.  I always loved the song.  That's local piano legend Bill Vitek on piano, laying down the rhythm track with me.  Stephen Bird played bass.  I'll complete the tune with my own vocals and maybe something else, but for now, while everyone still likes it, it's a tight little instrumental.  I'll be using this in the SUNY Potsdam Campaign Closer video I'm working on.  I think it turned out pretty nice.

For the Love of Cinema 10

Shooting For the Love of the Mambo with Marsha Baxter, 2013

Shooting For the Love of the Mambo with Marsha Baxter, 2013

I'm pleased to announce that the documentary feature film that I shot and co-directed (with Marsha Baxter) For the Love the Mambo will be screening as part of the Cinema 10 program at the Roxy Theater in Potsdam on September 26.  

The film is  dear to me.  It celebrates the birth, life, and re-birth of a music known to many as the mambo.  Shot in Potsdam, New York City, and Puerto Rico, the film gives voice to the many creators of this genre.  

I began my career shooting music, through my high school media class in the 80's.  We would pack up three video cameras, tripods, and all the necessary gear and head down to the Graystone punk club in Detroit, taping performances by Big Black, The Butthole Surfers, Die Kruezen, and many others.  What kind of high school teacher does this to his students?  The best kind, a guy named Russ Gibb.  

In 2012 I found myself on stage again, this time in Puerto Rico, with legendary baritone saxophone player Pete Miranda of the Mambo Legends Orchestra.  He took the first solo in the first tune played at a show.  It was an out of body experience for me.  To be standing inches from his horn while shooting the performance, hearing the rich texture and tone, surely improvised, was too much.  Seeing it now I still get goose bumps.  Performances like this are peppered throughout the film as we learn more about the how's and why's of this cherished musical form.  These are the former members of Tito Puente's band and they are still going strong, touring the world and bringing the mambo with them.

If you're a resident of our North Country I hope you'll find yourself down at the Roxy on September 26th to watch this film, stay for the Q and A with Marsha and me, and then possibly catch the Crane Latin Ensemble after the film, performing live at Maxfield's.

The film has also screened at festivals in Mumbai, New Mexico, and at the 2015 St. Lawrence International Film Festival.

 

Geared-Up for Alcoa - Manufacturing in Northern New York State

Doyle Dean-2.jpg

I always enjoy putting on protective gear and immersing myself in a different environment.  It's sometimes difficult to work, hard to hear w/ the earplugs and screaming equipment, hard to move around with giant work boots and a helmet, and hard to see through safety glasses.  But what you realize is this: some people, the folks I spoke with at Alcoa in Massena, New York, spend their working LIVES geared up like this.  It's not a novelty for them.  They take it in stride, they see it as a necessary part of their daily jobs.  The earplugs are removed, you're outside the facility and all of a sudden you hear high-tone frequencies, birds, the wind in some leaves, but sharp, intense, loud...  

I spoke with some workers about the work/life balance.  Things have gotten better recently, as most/if not all of them are now home with their families on weekends, where before they might be at work.  Something else we often take for granted.... weekends off...  They have kids, the kids grow up, the parents are at work.... 

I enjoyed seeing, and getting footage of, giant coils of aluminum as they are manipulated by the machinery at the plant.  This kind of manufacturing is becoming rare in this country.  It was good to explore, at least briefly, the daily lives of some of the folks working hard in the North Country.  The people I spoke with are insightful, interesting, and full of good stories.  

Meaningful Conversation

One of the most tangible benefits of creating web video is the real conversation I find myself engaged in with my subjects.  In a recent batch of interviews rounding out SUNY Potsdam's Bicentennial Campaign I was fortunate to speak with Jude Kiah, a Potsdam Alum.  Jude is an energetic and thoughtful speaker.  He talked about his transformative experience at Potsdam, his near miss at enrolling, "If we had afternoon mail delivery, the Potsdam acceptance letter would have come two hours later and I would have enlisted in the Army, I came to Potsdam sight unseen, without any classes or anywhere to stay" and his realization early on that he needed to do some growing up, "an upper-classman looked at me and said 'dude you SCREAM Freshman.' "  Jude now works in higher ed, currently at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

I'm in the process now of editing this material to do my best to serve the client, SUNY Potsdam, but also to serve the viewer, and the subject.  It's not always and easy dance, but interviewees like Jude are full of the insight that keeps us all wanting to know more. 

On the Jerod Sommerfeldt Air Ascent Videos

Still from "Toy"

Still from "Toy"

It was a busy week but I found the time to create videos for the ten tracks on Jerod Sommerfeldt's new album.  He is an interesting Electronic Music artist and works a lot- though not so much on this particular project- with the degrading and manipulation of sound.  For the ten pieces I concentrated on the exploration of breaking apart/degrading/digitally destroying video images.  Sometimes this was achieved through exporting at low resolution, re-importing and then blowing up the image 600x and then repeating.  There's some fun tearing and boxing that occurs, it's just the pixels revealing themselves.  They stay so well hidden otherwise.  Also I occasionally exported and then re-shot from the screen and then repeated the above process.  

As mentioned earlier, this process can be quite meditative and is a nice break from familiar, narrative concerns.  It's a way -for me at least- to re-examine what I like and why I like it- concerning light, color, form, texture.  Without the worries of storytelling.  Maybe there is a story there?  Let me know.  I like stories.

It's funny but you have to START with something... for instance I used my footage of a swimming pool for Terrace, shots of a box fan, for motion- in Blinkers, footage of the light on my external hard-drive and then a color shift in Burn and finally with Toy, I had some troubles.  I shot a bit of the DNC during Bill Clinton's speech, I then hyper-sped up the footage and blew it up but still, I was stuck with recognizable human shapes, something I really wanted to avoid for this project.  I kept blowing up, exporting low res, removing/shifting color and then re-importing until I got what is now Toy.  I'm putting up a link to that- which should lead to the whole JS album, and a little snip of the thrown-out Clinton footage.  

Playing with texture

A week or so ago I started messing around with nonfigurative texture pieces that may accompany an album by sometime collaborator Jerod Sommerfeldt.  It's been a great way for me to work through some ideas and concentrate on motion, color, and form but without constraining to any narrative and without the confines of the 'real world.'  The pieces are meditative, at least for me..  I'm putting up a still here and let's see if I can find 10 seconds or so to share.  

Still from "Shine"