Documentary filmmaking takes a timely twist

A documentary that pulls us under and slips us into the shoes of a character forms lasting imprints on our psyches and on our hearts.

Are stories more believable than the six-o’clock news? Is a well-crafted narrative more successful in forming opinions and communicating information than detached press releases? I think so. And, I reckon producers sense this too. The public definitely wants to know what is going on the international stage. But, these days the jaded relay of censored information doesn’t cut it.

The Big Short - An exploration of documentary

 

Sully
Tom Hanks with Captain Chesley Sullenberg

For at least the past year we have been witnessing an interesting evolution in the film industry. When it comes to documentaries, both Hollywood and independent filmmakers have been performing some serious genre-bending. Projects like The Big Short, Notes on Blindness, Southside with You, Sully and most recently, Snowden have all capitalized on the story-telling aspect of the doc-genre.

There seems to be a new sub-genre of documentary films emerging. It adequately delivers stories, but focuses on bringing the viewers into that story. These releases are also time sensitive. Snowden, The Big Short and Sully do not reflect on a distant history; the viewers are contemporaries of the real-time events. These films tell incredible stories and also reveal a perspective of how life operates behind the media-curtain.

I would be delighted to see more docs move this direction—spreading stories in unforgettable ways.

What I most appreciate about these films is that they provide us–ridged, desensitized, over-stimulated Americans–with a gateway to empathy. Traditional documentaries often require a significant investment in the topic prior to viewing. Of course their spots, facts, horrors, and wonders invigorate us and compel us in new ways, but sadly the consumption of these documentaries easily digest in our steel stomachs. Recall the last time you saw a doc. Deeply moved? Now, how long did it take for you to totally forget about it? My guess is maybe a week at the longest. Documentaries that pull us under and slip us into the shoes of a character form lasting imprints on our psyches and on our hearts.

 

– Kylee

Hacksaw Ridge – Why should you see it?

Hacksaw Ridge juxtaposes the anguish of war with the beauty of faith.

Hacksaw Ridge - Desmond Doss  (Andrew Garfield)

Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) serves in the WWII Battle of Okinawa with his wild band of brothers. Doss, a Seventh-day Adventist and contentious objector, enlists for the US Army. As a medic he secures permission to not even touch a gun. Concerned with his beliefs, Sergeant Howell (Vince Vaughn) publicly warns the boys while they are in boot camp that they cannot trust Doss, because he is a coward. He is beaten, imprisoned and rejected by his troupe simply for having a different view. We see how ‘The Coward’s’ convictions emerged from events in his past and we see him remain true to those convictions. However, Doss’s beliefs about the value of life are translated into action at the battle itself, where he miraculously saves over seventy lives. Hacksaw Ridge juxtaposes the anguish of war with the beauty of faith.

Hacksaw Ridge depicts the mental and physical trauma of battle.

HR is the goriest movie I have ever seen. I‘m not one to be turned inside-out by blood and guts, but there were several moments where I felt like I needed to turn my head or close my eyes. But I didn’t. I was sitting next to a veteran. I didn’t know him, but I knew that I needed to keep my eyes open for him. I was moved to endure this piece of hell to honor the hell that he endured.

It is obvious that we have an epidemic in this country. After saving so many lives, our veterans are suffering and dying even at times by their own hands. HR makes that obvious, going about it eloquently in a non-preachy kind of way. Bloody explosions, brotherly affection, and moments of fierce courage usher the viewer into the life of a soldier in a way that no encyclopedic definition or informative news flash ever could.

Hacksaw Ridge shows how Christian convictions should work to restore the world, not to incriminate it.

The world’s religions hold some of the most compelling stories offered to humanity. They have been repeated and reflected in different forms for centuries. Oddly enough, in the past ten years we have seen some of the most horrible films rendering faith and contemporary life. Recent story-telling is failing miserably when it comes to exploring religious belief. HR has broken that trend. It is timely, reverent and exceptionally made.

Sure, there were parts of the script I would have written differently, CGI I was discontent with and approaches to plot mechanics I would have liked to be more daring. HR wasn’t phenomenal. What I cannot get away from is that this film changed me. It has been weeks since I have seen it, but it just keeps coming up: in my prayers, in my interactions and in my own artwork. My hope is that Hacksaw Ridge inspires you too, inspires you to consider not what your convictions are, but how they can bring beauty and vitality to the world.

– Kylee

(In Wide Release – November 4, 2016)

Why Jesus Failed Ben-Hur

The Ben-Hur story suggests that best way to critique Jesus Christ is to write a life in response to his life.

video-ben-hur-international-trailer-4-videoLarge - Ben-Hur

Ben-Hur represents peace in a time of war, faith in a culture of skepticism, union in a society of division, and most thoroughly forgiveness to a people of vengeance. This is not true in its narratival setting alone, but also in today’s larger blockbuster climate. The reproduction of this century-old epic blasphemes our cultural milieu. Such a bold move is not surprising coming from Ben-Hur’s director Timur Behmambetov, who capitalizes on unsuspected plot shifts. But, was this representation of ethics and religion too superficial for us to handle? I think so.

This depiction of Ben-Hur does not shy away from the story’s inherent christocentric backbone. The hellish suffering in the galleys transforms Judah Ben-Hur (Jack Huston), but the most radical transformation comes in his final response to Jesus Christ (Rodrigo Santoro). Bekmambetov implements subtle visual gestures to link Judah Ben-Hur and Jesus such as: their physical appearance, whipping scars, and the cross that Judah Ben-Hur finds salvation on at sea.

The scripting, cinematography and acting fails when it comes to presenting a believable portrayal of Jesus. His character comes off crudely one-dimensional. Santoro’s performance presented us with a feel-good-hippie Jesus, but his lines, constructed of straight up biblical quotations, were not helpful either. Not all characters need to be filled out for a story to work, but the key-players must be robust to be believable. Luckily in this case, the ethos of Christ’s followers partially resurrects him. Judah Ben-Hur’s wife Esther (Nazanin Bonladi) becomes a close follower of Jesus. Her response to Christ and Ben-Hur actually has some say to why Jesus is even a valid component in the narrative.

Literary critic and philosopher George Steiner suggested that the best way to critique a novel is to write a novel in response to it. Perhaps the best way to critique Jesus Christ is to write a life in response to his life. The film Ben-Hur attempts to lend this kind of attentive critique but ultimately suggests a Jesus who founds an absurd forgiveness and produces an unimaginable reconciliation. I consider it more than unfortunate that Jesus was attended so sloppily. He crippled the backbone of a celebrated story and made forgiveness and reconciliation a fanciful, religious daydream.

– Kylee

 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Director Stephen Frear’s Florence Foster Jenkins easily cascades down American psyches with its terrific and terrifying humor. FFJ brings to life a new meaning for a ‘feel-good movie’. It is fun, honest, and… morally disturbing.

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Florence opens with a sequence at the Verdi Club, an aristocratic-art-club cultivated by the popular and generous goddess of music, Madame Jenkins (Meryl Streep). The fine-dressed and blue-haired crowd moons over outrageous still-scenes, startling monologues, and elaborate musical numbers performed before them.

After over twenty-five years of sideline support, Madame Florence’s last wish is to share the music that has so inspired her all of her life. The philanthropist defies incredible odds when she not only records an album, but also performs at the esteemed Carnegie Hall.

FFJ follows Madame Florence as she embarks on this journey to celebrate her own ambition – opera singing. Her foremost obstacle is the fact that her singing is simply dreadful. Her unpredictable pitch variation and flitting tone is fingernails-to-the-chalkboard. Yet, her money-hungry supporters and strangely sympathetic husband (Hugh Grant) work tirelessly to assure that Madame Florence only receives compliments and encouragement. Though the film lacks in a dynamic plot escalation, it does not lack in dynamic characters and good questions.

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Performances by Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant emit a matured grandeur. Madame Florence’s purity meets no match in comedy, or philanthropy for that matter. Meanwhile, Mr. Bayfield’s (Grant) harrowing moral compromises skate about that very purity. Yet, it is the unassuming accompanist Cosme McMoon (Simon Helberg) who steals the show. His interpretation of the philanthropist, her husband and her deceptive supporters matches the conjectures of the film goers, creating a kind of confused solidarity between the 2-D and 3-D world. Helberg’s near-limitless expressions rectifies the magic of silent films with a modern twist.

These unique characters are a delight to watch as they interact with one another and romp around the terrain of honesty. FFJ ponders a barrage of questions involving ambition, courage, and sincerity. The film does not give strict answers, but does come out the other side saying one thing – go for it! Or in the words of Madame Florence, “People may say I can’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t.”

-Kylee

Filmmaking Lesson #4 : Do Small Well

do small well

A tidbit of wisdom I wish I had heeded early on is ‘Do the small stuff well, first.’

During a lunch break on set this last week the cast, crew, and I found ourselves discussing some of the small student films we have been a part of over the years. More often than not these student films entailed drugs, gunplay, blood effects, action sequences, screaming, and so on. Another thing these films had in common was the fact that most of them did not do well in the end. Despite the awesome camera and sound equipment, the final destination for these films was a dusty shelf rather than the film festival circuit.

While it was fun traversing these memories and laughing about the ridiculous mistakes these projects involved it did cause me pause for thought. Why did these films not do well? Was it the acting? Directing? Writing? Everyone involved had worked their hardest to create a good final project but ultimately, failure. I too have films on old hard drives resting on dusty shelves that I am very glad haven’t seen the light of day. How embarrassing if they did. But one of the blessings time and experience have given me is the ability to look back and recognize that these films failed for one primary reason; we didn’t do small well, first.

A newbie filmmaker wants to dive in and do the next Jason Bourne / Lord of the Rings and they falsely believe that the guns, violence, and effects into these stories will push their film to success. It’s easy for the newb filmmaker to focus on these flashy shiny elements rather than on their technique; can you do simple dialogue scene well? Can you do shot, reverse shot, well? Can you do simple walk-and-talk sequences well? Can you light a scene, block a scene, frame a scene, mic a scene; can you do these simple small things well?

Usually the answer is no. We’re too busy figuring out the best way to punch a guy, fire a weapon, wreck a car, or do chase sequences.

A word of wisdom; do small well, and do that first. Focus on the actors and the dialogue. Focus on the framing and lighting. Take a simple plain ordinary scene and make it extraordinary to watch. If you can pull that off then maybe, just maybe, you will be ready to do big stuff well too.

So put away the guns and corn-syrup blood and tell a simple story about a few people doing simple domestic things and see if you can do it well, and maybe in the end you will be directing the next Jason Bourne.

chasonsignoff

6 Tips for Taking Better Photos of Your Kids

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

So you want to get better photos of your kids? I’ve heard it countless times: “well, if I had a nicer camera…” or “if my kids would hold still…” or “i just don’t know how to get good lighting”.

My theory is that anyone, with a little help, can take fantastic photos of their kids/pets/cars/food/what have you. Even if all you have is an iPhone! It just takes a keen eye and some practice.

1.Get on their level!

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

Obviously, kids are smaller than you. Try getting down low and take a look around, see how they see. Look them in the eye. Kids are more comfortable with you when you’re on the same level. Try to imagine how big things look to them. Perspective is everything.

2. Rediscover everyday moments.

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

There’s magic in the mundane, I always say. Try to look out for ordinary moments that you will someday forget. Not just the big milestones, or the staged activities. Sleeping babies, messy nap-hair, spaghetti-covered faces, they way they stand up on their tippy toes to reach for things. These are the magical moments to capture.

3. Take advantage of stillness.

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

We all know kids move at break-neck speed 99% of the time. Try to notice the few times they are still. Like this capture of my daughter’s ballerina bun. Good luck trying to get a photo of these details while she’s running around. But when she stops for .837 seconds to eat a clementine, voila!

4. Be subtle.

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

It’s common knowledge that the very moment you try to catch your child in the act, they will notice and move. SO MANY TIMES I’ve tried to snap a photo of something crazy or adorable happening, and then, like a butterfly, they sense my presence and bolt! Wait till they are at ease, casually sidle up and, all non chalant, just snap a picture before they notice. Or, if they know you’re there, try snapping while you’re asking them something like “what did you dream about last night?” or “what should we have for dinner?” Then hopefully they won’t move because they aren’t concentrating on your photo-taking.

5. Use the natural lighting.

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

Turn off that pesky flash! Especially if you’re using an iPhone. The drama is all in the shadows.
Look around your house at various times of day. Notice when there’s a nice stream of sunlight through a window, or when your playroom is the brightest. Try to catch your kids when they’re facing the light. Don’t be afraid of low lighting either. Try cranking up that ISO. If you’re using your camera phone, make sure you tap on the part you want to focus on to adjust the lighting.

6. Don’t ask them to “Say Cheese”!

better photos blog post LUMINDEO

If your kids are like mine, if you say “Say cheese!” they will immediately make either an insanely over-the-top toothy grin, or a look just like Chandler’s grimace from Friends. Instead, try telling a joke, or asking them about something they love. Like “You don’t like Star Wars, do you?!” or “Remember that time sister dropped all those eggs all over the kitchen? Wasn’t that funny?!” At the very least they’ll give you a thoughtful look instead of the cheese face.

So there you have it. Try these out and let us know if you have other ideas for taking better photos of our kids. Happy picture taking!

carolinesignoff

Filmmaking Lesson #3: The Slate Piece is Gold

slate piece blog

Slate’s are a lifesaver. OK, not the slate itself.

In fact, with the advancements in digital filmmaking a lot of small crews aren’t even using a slate, opting to clap their hands to sync the sound instead. Whether you use or don’t use a slate is up to you, but in case you’re interested I added this nice little video below from No Film School on how to use a slate like a pro.

In this post however, I want to talk about the precious few moments of time that happens when the camera rolls before the slate and after the director yells ‘Action!’ This few moments is called the ‘Slate Piece.’

On a typical set the camera rolls along with the sound for a few moments before everything is ready and the slate person then goes up to do their job. Often times the cameras are already pointed where they need to be with the actors or subjects in focus, and usually, in my experience, it is a perfect candid relaxed moment; the director hasn’t yelled ‘Action!’ so everybody is chill waiting for the clapboard to come and go. These are gold moments. 

During the editing phase of one of my first films I came to this intense scene between two actors and I realized I needed a cutaway shot from one guy to the other, but in looking through the takes I couldn’t find a sufficient cut. I was completely stuck. I needed a moment where the actor looked at his hands, adjusted his shirt, looked around the room, or scratched his nose; something, anything. But in every take the actor was flat and I couldn’t find anything to cut to.

So what to do? Go back and shoot the scene again? Not an option. (Most of the time this isn’t an option.)

So I went back to the raw footage of the shots before the slate entered and started scrolling through the takes and suddenly, there it was.

The actor, waiting on the crew to finish, looked over to the corner of the room and rubbed his forehead. A perfect unscripted, unplanned moment. I snatched it up, placed it in the film, and the scene played out well.

Since then, I have made it a habit to roll the cameras early. Of course if you are shooting on actual film, then this might not be an option for you (film is expensive!). However, if you are shooting digitally you can do this all day. Roll early while the actors are settling in to their first positions. You never know when they might do something interesting that later on will be a huge blessing in the editing room.

lumindeo blog writer

Gift Ideas for the Camera-Lover In Your Life

camera-lover gift ideas

Just one week until Valentines day and if you’re anything like me, you’ve waited till the last minute to shop! We have a few (or 10) ideas that will hopefully help you find the perfect gift for the camera-lover in your life.

1. Absolutely anything from Artifact Uprising.

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Seriously, these guys know how to make a beautiful print.
And you really need to print out some of those awesome photos you’ve got sitting in your phone.
I personally love the wooden clipboard calendars. A beautiful keepsake your Valentine can enjoy all year long for $29.99.

2. This adorable Canon SLR-shaped USB flashdrive.

camera shape usb

It’s just fun, and who doesn’t always need more flash drives? (There is also a Nikon version.)
$8.99 right now on Amazon.

3. Sterling Silver Camera Necklace from ALWAYZWITHLOVE on Etsy.

camera necklace

Simple and elegant camera-lover jewelry, $40 for any MomTog in your life.

4. Personalized Leather Camera Strap from Viveo on Etsy.

custom camera strap

Choose different colors or styles. $44 to make a custom gift everyone needs.

5. instax mini 90 NEO Classic camera from Fuji film.

instax camera

I have one of these, and I just love it. It’s a great throwback to analog cameras with a variety of shooting modes that gives you the ability to use light creatively. Also, who doesn’t love the part when the little photo pops out and you wait for you photo to show up? Tons of fun for $135 on Amazon.

6. The OlloClip 4-in-1 lens for iphone.

olloclip camera lens

With 4 lens options (fisheye, wideangle, macro 10x, macro 15x) to choose from, this little lens takes your iphone photos to a whole new level. An awesome deal for $79.99.

7. The new GoPro HERO4 Session.

gopro hero4 camera

With GoPro’s newest, smallest camera, you have endless video possibilities.
It’s waterproof, durable, and has an easy one-button control. So much potential is such a tiny camera for $199.

8. This ONA Bowery Camera Bag.

ona camera bag

This stylish bag holds one camera body and two lenses, moveable dividers, and several pockets for wallet/keys/accessories as well as being waterproof and durable. Get one from B & H for $149.

9. Have Their Favorite Instagrams Printed with Social Print Studio.

instagram camera prints

I’ve used this service many, many times. Several of the walls in my home are covered in my instagram photos.
My favorite products are the squares and mini squares. I even have a couple magnets!
They have great quality for not much expense. I suggest using their app to order your prints.

10. A Vintage Canon Moleskine from The Print Bee on Etsy.

camera moleskine

Everyone needs a handy journal to jot down all your brilliant ideas. Especially one that fits right in your back pocket!

So there you have it. I hope you got some good ideas for your special camera-loving someone.
Let us know in the comments if you can think of any others to add to the list!

carolinesignoff

Why I Love my Job and Other Thoughts on Filmmaking

lovejobpost
‘Do you like your job?’

Every so often people ask me about the things I love and hate most about my job as a filmmaker so I thought I would share some of my answers to these commonly asked questions.

What do you love about your job as filmmaker? 

Filmmaking is all about creation. I love creating things, seeing something where there was once nothing. I love being surprised by how things come together, and they always do come together, even though more often than not there have been problems and difficulties that looked unsurmountable. I love stepping back and watching the final product, seeing all that hard work come together in a nice polished way, seeing the story unfold before me as a whole. The outcome is always unexpected. I like wearing jeans to work every day. I love the crazy chaos that goes into productions. I like the changes in scenery, the surprising places that you end up for film shoots. The most fun part though is working with fun creative people. In this line of work you come into contact with some of the most fun, talented, creative people. There is no such thing as lone-wolf filmmaking. It’s about teamwork and using the talents of all the people around you to bring a story to life, and when you get a bunch of people’s grey cells churning on how to tell a great story, amazing things can happen.

What do you dislike about your job as filmmaker? 

Details are the worst. I am not a detail oriented person, I am more a big picture person, but in this line of work you have to deal with the millions of details like it or not. Details are everywhere, in the workflow, in the production, in the never-ending paperwork, even in sharing a project with the world there are details. So your only choice as a filmmaker is to get them done, like it or not, because they have to get done and unless you’re J.J. Abrams, no one’s gonna do it for you.

What does a typical day look like for a filmmaker? 

No day is the same. That’s one of the things I actually love about this job. It changes every day. Most of the time I am working in either pre or post production. Production weeks are super fun, being in the field, out of the office, working with cameras and people, and getting to say, ‘Action!’  Most of the time though, you are either preparing for a shoot, (locations, props, actors, writing, etc) or polishing a project (editing, coloring, recording, music, rendering, etc). It might not be the most glamorous job on the planet but each step is rewarding in its own way.

Where do I see the filmmaking industry going in five years? 

There’s never been a better time for filmmakers. The movie industry is more and more pushing towards individual selection online, meaning people are only viewing/paying for the channels they want. Cable networks are suffering as companies like Netflix and Amazon are growing and producing more and more original programming. The reason that this is good is because programs that people like will get picked up and promoted and more and more work will be created for a filmmaker who finds a supportive audience. Programs that no one likes will get dropped faster and stop taking up space because the viewer demands the content, not the big networks. So as a filmmaker the goal is simply to tell a great story and get it out there. If it’s good, the audience will come.

chasonsignoff

When You Creatively Burn Out

Lumindeo Burn Out Blog Post

I love what I do. Really. I have discovered more about life, relationships, and how vastly God loves us through documenting new life. But this winter, 5 years into working as a birth photographer, I had reached creative, physical, total burnout.

The hours are impossibly long. Sometimes I would leave for a birth and end up being there for 30+ hours. Constantly being on-call and staying awake days at a time is a stress level that will make anyone go bonkers after a while. So much rearranging of plans, missing events, coordinating of childcare, being a Pastor’s wife, church planter AND a homeschool mom, not to mention that I also work here at Lumindeo as a Production Assistant. So needless to say, I was slightly overbooked.

I realize that maxing out the hours and trying to do EVERYTHING is a common mistake we Moms make. The whole “How Does She Do It?” mentality ends up being the norm for most of us. It’s not that I WANT to do everything, it just feels like the only way.
The only way to get it all done, fulfill obligations, only way to make ends meet and pay the bills, only way to make it!

And the problem I found is that when I was doing EVERYTHING, not only was I not doing everything WELL, I was losing the part of me that LIKED doing any of it!
God didn’t create us to do it all. He made us to be whole. He made us to live in communion with Him and our Calling. To stop, breathe, enjoy our blessings, maybe even rely on Him more and ourselves less. Burning the candle at both ends only results in hurting ourselves in the long run.
During my third hospital visit of 2015, right after Christmas, I laid in the bed thinking “Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t have to live like this! The hustle is obviously trying to kill me. I’m only 29 and I feel 100. I don’t even know when I last used all that fancy camera equipment to photograph my own family.
I remembered why I got into photography in the beginning – to give witness to moments you can never get back. To capture the beauty of the mundane and the wonder of everyday miracles.

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So this year, I’ve decided to slow down (finally) and take more notice of the blessings around me. To go back to what got me started in this work in the first place. I’m reaching back to the roots of my Calling. To glorifying God with these talents he’s given me in my work. To more life, better relationships, dwelling on how vastly God loves us.
And to taking more photos of my own family.

carolinesignoff