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An Interview with 3D Motion Designer, David Ariew

David Ari

David Ariew (left)

I am super excited to introduce the blog this week. It is hard to emphasize how integral David was in my professional development. After years of hanging out and teaching me swing dancing (you read that right), I asked David about film because I had caught the bug in my last year of college. He sat down with me, walked me through what indie filmmaking looked like in 2011-2012, and pushed me to give it a shot. A few weeks later, he sent me a link to a Canon Rebel t3i on sale. I bought it, fumbled my way through the basics, and I imagine I will always have that camera sitting on my shelf. Thank you David.

So without further ado, get ready to have your senses blown away by the way the extremely talented and accomplished David Ariew!

1. Please introduce yourself. Who you are, where you’re from, and what you do. 

My name’s David Ariew, and I’m a 3D motion designer based in San Diego, CA. I started as an ubergeneralist and cut my teeth doing concert visuals for Dave Matthews Band in Charlottesville, VA, where I trained up on DIT work, editing, color grading, VFX, motion design, and even dabbled in being a (clumsy) DP. I’ve since honed in on 3D design as my passion, gravitating towards surrealistic imagery, often space themed or celestial, and I enjoy being a one man band that can take a project from concept to completion solo, using my three beefy PCs stuffed with nine total graphics cards in them to render my work, and heat the house as a biproduct, which is awesome in the winter and terrible in the summer.

2. Tell us a bit about “Ariev Visuals” [Ariewisuals? I’m assuming it’s Ariev Visuals haha please correct me if wrong]. Where you’re based, how long you’ve been around, what your mission is, etc. 

I’ve been working as a freelancer for about four years now (and three before that at the DMB-related company I mentioned), and it’s great because all my work is remote at this point, so moving across the country from Virginia where I spent all my life until I was 31 to San Diego was a surprisingly easy transition. My company name is Arievvisuals, but that’s mostly just for fun to help people pronounce my name, which ends in a W, but is pronounced like a V, so then with Arievvisuals, the two Vs make a W… it’s not that clever.

Anyway, I’ve had a few big moments in my career so far that have helped me gain visibility in my community, the first of which was an opportunity to create a four minute long, full-CG, space-themed music video by myself: https://vimeo.com/201978693The budget was surprisingly decent, and I had a full four months to do it! That was extremely lucky because those three factors almost never line up, where you’ve got full creative control, an extended timeline, and a budget that will sustain you. I took the opportunity to make it as cool as possible, and it paid off in an ambitious portfolio piece that I could really point to with a very high level of polish, as well as getting my name out there as “that guy who makes cool space stuff.”

Then, my friend who’s widely known for his Cinema 4D tutorials and has a huge following online, EJ Hassenfratz (eyedesyn.com), asked me to create a tutorial for his channel on Octane Render, which is the GPU rendering engine I use religiously to make my work happen, and that made a big splash too. Since then, I’ve made another twelve Octane tutorials for his channel, each doing really well, and that has resulted in tons of jobs as well as an official sponsorship from Otoy, the company that makes Octane. I’ve also recently created the intro to Katy Perry’s show, as well as worked with Deadmau5 in person at his house in Toronto a couple times, and created the opening titles to the iHeartRadio Music Awards, so things are getting really exciting and I’m pumped for all the potential projects and collaborations coming through the door!

Ship graphic

3. Digital VFX, CGI, graphic works, animation, that entire world is such a mystery for many filmmakers no matter their background. Can you give us a primer in what you do, how you wound up doing it, and your background? In particular, I’d love to hear how you wound up migrating from doing neuroscience work to becoming a graphic artist! 

In undergrad at William and Mary, I was on the science track, and that seemed to be the rational thing to do at the time. I was great at jumping through the hoops to get the grades. I was genuinely interested in science, and at some point I found that Neuroscience was the field that interested me the most, because you know, brains are cool and stuff. In my free time though, I was swing dancing, goofing around with my friends, and for whatever reason, making Zelda parodies and Pokemon 300 mashups in iMovie ’06, which I thought was the most fun piece of software known to man. You got transitions and those preset credit sequences with the reflective floors, and when you posted things to YouTube, which was new at the time, everyone was like “HOW DID YOU DO THE REFLECTIVE FLOOR THING!?” so that was gratifying. But then I got whisked away to grad school at UVA to do the thing that was gonna make the money and not the art, because I believed that to be unsafe and unrealistic, and that was basically three years of pulling teeth and almost quitting, then switching from the Ph.D. program down into the Masters, to get the Masters in Neuroscience and finally free myself. After that, it was just a matter of taking myself seriously, interning with people in Charlottesville, and sponging as much knowledge as possible from my peers and the internet. I found that immersing myself in filmmaking, I could learn things really quickly because it was actually fun, and I already had a knack for software.

Because of that knack, I quickly got hired at Filament Productions, the company I did concert visuals for, and I obsessively watched tutorials on the job when things were slow, which interestingly rubbed many people at the company the wrong way, but paid off in the long run in ways they didn’t understand. For my first several years, I also never said no to opportunities like 48 hour film contests (I did like nine of those), and I reinvested in myself by dropping all my savings one day on a 7D and a bunch of lenses. That continued into an obsessive buying spree of a slider, steadicam, car rig, jib, and more, and while it never paid me back financially, it allowed me to learn how to compose an image, the photographic properties of lenses, and what good camera movement looks like. That knowledge has been invaluable in my career as a 3D artist, to the point where I’m now acting as a digital DP and have plans to release an in-depth course on lighting and camera movement in Cinema 4D and Octane.

4. How does one get started? Say I have little to no experience, but I want to try my hand at 3D graphics, CGI, animations, really just diving into the work of digital-rendering (if you’ll excuse the most likely inaccurate parlance). What are some programs people should start learning? What are good “foundations” people should start working on? 

I began with After Effects, and it’s a great place to start, especially with videocopilot.net. I’m sure lots of people know of Andrew Kramer and his tutorials and plugins, but he was basically my first tutorial hero because you’d end up with a very cool result by the end of the video, with room to experiment on your own. Not to mention he’s extremely entertaining, so that’s just the best entry to the world of VFX I can think of. Though recently, I’ve been seeing a lot more people jumping straight into Cinema 4D, just skipping the 2D or VFX realm entirely because 3D is becoming so easy to learn. Cinema 4D is a 3D package that appeals to solo motion designers and small teams because it’s flexible and user friendly, whereas other apps like Maya and Max are bloated pipeline tools that work great for the VFX industry when you’re a specialist, but less so when you’re a generalist looking to make something fast. Also, if you look at instagram, the community of people rendering amazing images is blowing up, and that’s largely due to Cinema 4D and Octane’s ease of use. That pairing is especially popular because of the similar mindsets and just how easy it is to jump in.

For beginner C4D stuff, greyscalegorilla.com has a vast array of content, and that’s where most of us started to learn, but my buddy EJ has some insanely fun and accessible tutorials on his site eyedesyn.com. His vibe has a more handcrafted, cel-shaded look, and that works very well with people coming over from After Effects who want to continue with flat shaded or vector designs, or just incorporate some 3D scenes into their 2D designs without people realizing it’s actually 3D. If you’re interested in learning how to create 3D environments that are a bit more photorealistic or sci-fi though, definitely check out the tutorials I’ve put out there on arievvisuals.com/tutorials, or if you want a gigantic master list of how to learn Octane, then check out arievvisuals.com/resources because I’ve collected every Octane tutorial I’ve ever seen on the internets and placed it there with helpful descriptions. It used to be hard to find that info, and one day I realized I had this encyclopedic list in my head of these, so I took the effort to drop it into my site.

As for foundations, like I said, the more filmmaking knowledge you can cram into your brain, the better you’re gonna be at animation and 3D. It’s all the same storytelling stuff — camera movement, editing, color theory, lighting, and tons of problem solving, except you get to sit behind your computer and stare at a screen till your eyes bleed. It’s great for us lazy folks, but you have to also battle that by moving your self about once in a while.

Deadmau5

5. What is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on and why? What is one of the more challenging aspects of your work? 

My favorite project in recent memory is one where I collaborated with Spanish composer Ivan Torrent. He emailed me out of the blue and asked if I could create a full CG trailer to intro his latest album. His music is epic and the track was amazing to animate to. He also brought tons of beautiful album art to the table that gave me a great starting point of ethereal whales and cities floating above the clouds. It was also awesome because we completed the project in three weeks, which normally sounds like a nightmare deadline for a couple minutes of 3D animation, but it was also an excuse to reel him in on certain things that would derail my process, and he was extremely respectful of that, and when I really nailed something he’d get insanely excited and tell me how he’d just showed his family and how the room ended up in tears. It’s really weird and awesome when you get to the point in your work when you can elicit an emotion from someone, especially with 3D because it’s so technical and it’s easy to get caught up and feel like it’s great if you’ve just made something that’s pretty, but to really get someone to react with laughter, awe, sadness, etc, you’re going above and beyond the call. I’m not saying I did that, because I don’t really think I did yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer, and I’m proud of the piece: http://arievvisuals.com/work#/immortalys/

The most challenging thing about 3D work is just how much there is to learn. You could go down the rabbit hole on any task and do that for the rest of your life, such as modeling, rigging, lighting, texturing, layout, camera animation, character animation, simulation, rendering, compositing… the list goes on. By that same token though, it’s also exciting because you can build these entire beautiful worlds in your computer at home from scratch. Personally, I have a habit of getting myself way in over my head on a project and gradually unburying myself, and those projects that seem overwhelming at first but I conquer anyway through persistence are ultimately the ones that take my career a giant step forward. Something that used to be more difficult is rendering, and with CPU-based renderers like the Standard and Physical render engines that come default in Cinema 4D, you could easily find yourself waiting an hour to see a finished frame, and the art direction process was so slow that tasks like lighting felt less like creativity and more like watching paint dry. That’s why I use Octane, because as a GPU renderer it’s orders of magnitude faster, and there’s a live view into the final quality image that you’re seeing in real time, so the process becomes much more playful and spontaneous. Even so, rendering is still the biggest bottleneck, which is why I’ve custom built my three machines, each better than the last and packed with more 1080tis, but with the latest upcoming release of Octane 4, which includes an AI-denoiser (literally an AI that’s trained on people’s scenes to denoise renders), it looks like we’ll get another game-changing speed increase.

Star Wars

6. Are there any tips or any pieces of advices you’d like to give newcomers? 

This is kind of specific to the motion design industry, but if you find yourself stuck at a company and stagnating, or feeling like you want to do work that’s more fun and make the jump to freelance but don’t know how, then read this book: https://www.amazon.com/Freelance-Manifesto-Modern-Motion-Designer-ebook/dp/B071JRYMSG. It’s brimming with better advice than I could ever give you on running a business and being a freelancer and will absolutely help you earn jobs and make more money. On a more general note to all filmmakers, work with people you love and do passion projects. If you don’t feel like you have the time to do passion projects, then prioritize fun projects or ones that will push you to learn something new over ones that will make you slightly more money. Now, if a job is gonna make you crazy money, take that job and use it to fund a passion project afterwards, or use it to go on a work retreat and learn something you’ve had kicking around in the back of your head for a long time. Recently, I’ve been getting more “high end” jobs, but each time I take one on it ends up being more stressful and less fun, and often my indie clients are willing to pay high rates, and in those cases it’s an easy decision because the job will be more relaxed and I’ll get more creative control

I used to think I was unfortunate getting my start in Charlottesville, VA, which let’s be honest, is not anywhere big for filmmaking or 3D work, but actually it was a great training ground, and because you can teach yourself almost anything via the internet, your surroundings don’t matter as much as you think. In my case, it was a blessing in disguise, because I got used to a blank slate, or bumbling clients telling me they had no clue what I should do, but to “make it cool… like in your style” and so that actually helped me find my taste and my style. Those indie projects allowed me to get comfortable bringing my own direction and vision to a project, and while yes it’s important to learn how to work in a team and best practices and all that for “real production scenarios,” you end up using less of your creative brain in those times because your role is so limited. I’m quickly finding that my happy place is to work solo or in small teams with other artists I look up to, vs having a smaller part in a bigger production, which may actually look more impressive because of the sheer number of people who contributed, but that I feel doesn’t represent me or my work.

Want to see/learn more? Got a project that needs David’s expertise? Check out his site!

The Wonderful World of Lenses

The Wonderful World of Lenses

lenses

image from premiumbeat.com

So you want some lenses. You don’t? Wrong, yes you do. Like with the post on sound, forget your camera. Lenses are arguably the most important pieces of equipment in your arsenal and can, quite literally, last a lifetime. “Buy once, cry once” heavily applies here. There are so many options out there and so many numbers/letters to learn, so before diving in to the wonderful world of lenses, here are some basic terms.

Focal length” is the “mm” on your lens. 40-60mm is generally a “normal” look, 75mm+ is  considered a “long” focal length (lenses that see far), below 40mm is generally considered a “wide” focal length (lenses that let you see a wider area around you) and may or may not be “fish-eyed” (distorted on the sides, creating sharp angles on the ends).

“Fast” or “Slow” refers to how open your lens can be – how low can the aperture go (letting in more light, giving a shallower depth of field)? Fast zooms are generally f/2.8 and lower, fast primes f/1.8. It’s important to note that there is no number-definition for “fast” and “slow,” it’s more of a guideline. Fast lenses are generally more expensive than their “slower” counterparts.

So with these terms in mind, let’s get to some things you need to consider when buying a lens.

Prime vs. Zoom: A prime lens is a lens that does not zoom. A zoom lens has an “adjustable focal length,” meaning you can zoom in and out. The advantage with good prime lenses is that they are generally more “precise” than zoom lenses as they do not have the multiple pieces of glass that a zoom needs. Primes are also usually more “accurate” and provide a nice cinematic softness while still being sharp, This does not mean zoom lenses are imprecise, though cheap ones often are (as are cheap primes). Primes are also generally faster than zoom lenses, with most zooms tapping out at f/2.8 and even the cheapest of prime lenses being able to go lower. This makes them better equipped for lowlight situations.

Used or New: Lenses are wonderful because if they are well-built (which many are) and the owner takes good care of them (you do, right?) then they can last a very long time and be great used purchases. Many sites have a strict system for rating a lens. The biggest consideration you should have when buying a used lens is the condition of the actual glass. Does it have scratches? Cracks at all? Any fungus (this happens with old glass)? After that, make sure the focus rings and aperture rings are listed as fully functional, otherwise you’ll have poor or no control over the lens. Anyone worth their salt selling lenses will list EXACTLY the condition it is in and will provide several photos. Return policies are always a huge plus. KEH.com is an extremely popular site with some of the best product grading I’ve seen thus far, and Lens Authority (Borrow Lenses’s retail arm) is also a great site for finding used but well-maintained gear.

What Now? You must ask yourself 3 questions: Do I need a zoom or prime for most of my work? Do I need it to be a fast lens? What focal lengths will I be working at? Documentary/Broadcast shooters often need fast, precise zooms. If you’re “making a movie” (non-documentary) you generally need sturdy, fast prime lenses. That being said, you should never restrict yourself to just primes or just zooms – virtually no one does for all their work.

This is just a primer. There are so many considerations to take into account when one is buying a new lens, but we hope this helps you get started. Now go invest in some glass!

This post is an adaptation/updated version of a previous post done by co-founder Greg Tilton Jr. for 52 Businesses back in April of 2014. 

An Interview with Actor Bianca Jaconetty

An Interview with Actor Bianca Jaconetty

Photo by Abagail Clark abagail-clark.com

Photo by Abigail Clark
abigail-clark.com

We conducted an interview with actor Bianca Jaconetty. Anyone who has worked with her can tell you that not only is she a truly talented, hard-working actor, but she is also an incredibly warm and positive force on set. We love working with Bianca and are proud to call her a colleague, so you can imagine how thrilled we were when she agreed to do this blog post. Enjoy!

1. Please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do currently.
My name is Bianca Jaconetty and I am an actor and writer originally from Chicago, Illinois.
2. How did you end up in New Orleans? 
My plan was never to come straight to New Orleans. After theater school I saved up enough money to move to Los Angeles where most of my peers were migrating. A few months before my move, one of my closest friends who lived here, suggested that I try it out. After moving down for a few months with several call backs, auditions and contacts, I made the decision to stay.
3. How and when did you first start acting? What’s your background (formal or informal)? Who or what were some of your biggest influences? 
I first started acting when I was very young. Luckily, I had parents who were very dedicated to sending me to classes where I could explore the world of performance. At a young age I took classes at a small theater called Childs’s Play in Chicago and was a part of the Chicago Children’s Choir. Growing up I went to Lookingglass summer camps and even took classes in Second City’s young adult acting program. From there I participated in high school plays and went to college for a degree in fine arts at Southern Illinois University. My time at Southern Illinois provided me the chance to delve into the world of theater further and was where I first honed into writing and got my first glance at film. Some of my biggest influences were my professors at Southern whose voices still pop into my head when I need advice. They were the ones who helped me grow into the artist that I am today.
4. So acting is one of those worlds that has a lot of preconceived notions/myths about it. What are some of the surprising/unexpected sides of acting world you’ve seen, if any? What are some of the “stereotypes” you’ve found hold true, if any? 
Bianca 2One really big surprise, which seems silly now because of how large and fast it has grown, is how crucial social media has become to casting in films. I was in L.A. for a film that was accepted into Hollyshorts film festival, and was talking to casting directors in the industry who say that Instagram and Twitter are an easy way for Hollywood to see who is popular. The more followers you have shows casting agents that you like to be seen by audiences, and that could make or break you. One actor could be more talented than the next, but if he’s got the backing on social media, they will choose him. It is a craft in itself to master the art of social media and something that I am still learning.
5. Do you find you have to face particular challenges as a woman, not only in the real of acting, but in film/video production in general? If so, what are some of these challenges? 
A common stereotype for actors around the globe is that it is all in the people that you know. If you have the right connection, then you will get further in your career. This, I have found to hold extremely true. Although New Orleans is a completely different beast than Los Angeles or New York, I know that I would not be where I am today without the people I have met and helped while working on a project or even out for a drink. You never know who is going to lead you to your next step, and it is essential to build these bonds, almost like industry karma.
6. If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out here in the film industry, especially if they’re just starting out here in New Orleans, what would be your main piece of advice?
I think that women are faced with struggles in all facets of the film industry. Personally, as an actor, my biggest qualm has come from the characters that I play. Many female characters in film are sexualized and lack depth. This came to me as a surprise in my transition to film because I was taught to study strong intricate characters in theater like Lady MacBeth or Martha from “Who’s Afraid of Viginia Woolf?”. To me it seems backward that these characters were written over 50 years ago and by men, where in 2016 we can’t seem to get it quite right.
I have also found that many of my colleagues who work on the other side of the camera are limited to what kind of positions that they can access in the industry. So few women are allowed the opportunity to explore the technical aspect of film, because those positions are already filled by men. Try as they might, they are rarely given the chance to delve into these jobs no matter how capable they may be. They can move a key light, carry a 30 pound mixing bag, set up an advanced rig or prep a camera better than the next guy, if given the chance. That being said, I do believe that there are people out there that recognize this struggle and are willing to help make a difference. I have many friends who see the issue for what it is and I know that the film industry is changing in this aspect for the better.
Put yourself out there! Go to classes, seek any and every audition and make friends with people who are doing what you want to do. The more you work, the more likely someone is going to recognize not only you, but the talent that you can bring to the table. Also, find a good photographer and constantly get new headshots. Having an up to date shot will keep you prepared for anything.
7. What are you working on now?
I just finished working on a music video called “Where is God?” with Worklight Pictures, and an independent film “Alone” directed and written by Michael Lowendick, where I was the lead. I am also finishing up a short comedy that I wrote and directed called, “Magical Fruit”, that was all thanks to InDepth Media, for letting me use their equipment and location. Rules We Live By, my first feature as a lead role has proudly been submitted to film festivals around the country. I’ve been keeping busy writing and collaborating with friends and hopefully will have some fun pieces to show in the months to come.
8. Anything else you’d like to add? 

Acting is hard. It is more than being a pretty face or reading lines off of a page. You have to consistently educate and dig so deep within yourself to pull out a magic that not everyone is capable of. No matter how prepared you are, how many exercises you practice, or hard you push; you will mess up. I am lucky to have friends that remind me constantly that there will be days of defeat, but you have to forgive yourself and not let it destroy your confidence. I allow myself 15 minutes, a very grueling self-dissection of what I could have done better, and then I take my lesson, I put it away and know that there will be worse days, but that I will exceed as an actor from it.

You can check out Bianca’s reel here and reach her at bianca.jaconetty@gmail.com

Screen Shot 2016-07-11 at 9.42.46 PM

From “Rules We Live By,” produced by Flittermouse Films

An Interview with Film Critic Bill Arceneaux

An Interview with Film Critic Bill Arceneaux

Drawn by Zach McGovern, Picture by Leslie Almeida

Image by Zach McGovern and Leslie Almeida

We conducted an interview with film critic Bill Arceneaux, a writer based here in New Orleans.  Bill has been covering films, the New Orleans film scene, and more with a fun, straightforward writing style. He is incredibly supportive of  the film industry here and was a pleasure to chat with.

1) Please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do currently.

I’m Bill Arceneaux, a Metro NOLA native. I’ve been a film critic – working from amatuer blogger to professional writer – since 2011, and a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association (1 of 3 in Louisiana) since 2014. I write movie reviews and articles, conduct interviews and produce podcasts from time to time.

2) So saying you are “fan of film” is a bit of an understatement. Clearly you are passionate about movies – what fostered your passion for it? What were some of the earliest films that resonated with you?

To provide a proper answer, I’m gonna have to time travel back to 7th grade. For an in class assignment, we were all asked to write about our best friends. I was the only student to choose a setting, not a person: the movie theater. I’m sure there was some kind of childhood moment that I strive to connect to everyday that is responsible for my love of cinema – perhaps my first memory of movies, which was watching Rocky IV with family – but I just love the public intimacy of watching a film with others. You may be surrounded by friends, neighbors and strangers, but when the lights flicker and fade, it’s just you and the illusion of movement. It’s the most consistent romantic relationship in my life, you could say.

Movies that I loved growing up:

Top Gun
Searching for Bobby Fischer
UHF
– Superman II
The Original Star Wars Trilogy

3) So you’re from the New Orleans area. Do you find it informs how you do your work? Does it impact you professionally?

Absolutely. First off, I do my best to cover films being locally shown at local theaters. This can be pretty difficult, especially if the only regional outlet you write for is in Baton Rouge. However, I do what I can, either through social media sharing or blog writing. Though, I DID just get rid of my most recent blog… Second, I think the laid back atmosphere of New Orleans trickles its way into how I write reviews. I tend to lean towards being cheeky and funny, with the context being that I’m taking the piss out of something instead of straight up negativity. Usually, there’s at least one thing to enjoy in a film. I don’t let the humidity and mugginess of poor craft seep into my attitude.

New Orleans has movie fans and all, but isn’t treated well as a moviegoing (or even movie making) town. We have great theaters, sure, but the culture could stand to be improved upon. If you’re a critic in this area and you’re independent and/or freelance (like me), you write because you love to, not because it pays the bills.

4) You’ve written on several platforms and experimented with various ways of funding your writing, such as Patreon. Monetization is always a challenge for anything writing-based. What have you found to be effective? Where have some of the challenges been with regards to monetizing your work?

Patreon is a wonderful tool if people know who you are and follow you. Or if you’re in a medium that they care about. So far, my campaign has been limited to a network of immediate friends and colleagues. Honestly, finding outlets willing to pay has kept me afloat. This can be a daunting and even depressing scavenger hunt, but I find having an editor to work under only improves my work, with constructive criticism and idea exchanges. I often wonder if potential readers and supporters look at my work and scoff or worse, close the browser tab without finishing. What am I doing wrong or not enough of? How can I better myself? These are always on my mind.

5) What are some of the key elements you look for when critiquing a movie? Are there certain criteria and metrics you use? What are some of the biggest turns-offs for you in a movie? What tends to draw you in and win your approval? 
Only five years into my pro career, I’m uncertain as to the “appropriate” or “scientific” formula for film criticism. I used to treat reviews as autobiography capsules, telling stories about myself that would tie into the movie being written about. I’ve since abandoned that for discussing more of the specific atmospherics of the film than anything. How did it make me feel? What was it trying to make me feel? Was it trying at all?

Brevity and technical cleverness always win out. It’s hard for me to stick with a film when it drags its story on and on, or when there is no flair or mastery of craft (subtle or not) at work. Maximum effort!

6) If you had to give one piece of advice to someone who wanted to write/critique films, what would be your main piece of advice?

Keep an open mind and KEEP WRITING. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and don’t get discouraged. I could’ve started earlier had I really listened to certain people.

7) What are you working on now? 

I’ve begun writing for Occupy.com, doing reviews and columns. It’s gonna be a challenge, getting into political and societal territory. Though, movies ARE a reflection of us, so it’s only natural. I’m also working on a new article series for Movieboozer and a podcast for the local cinephile group SwampFlix.com – stay tuned!

7) Anything else you’d like to add? 

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might be some kind of reverse or misunderstood masterpiece. Consider and reconsider that.

Follow Bill on twitter (@BillReviews), facebook (facebook.com/reelbillreviews), and support him on Patreon (patreon.com/billreviews).

An Interview with Director Ben Zschunke

An Interview with Director Ben Zschunke

Ben Zschunke

We conducted an interview with Ben Zschunke, a talented director/cinematographer based here in New Orleans. We have worked with Ben for a few years now and have been fortunate to not only employ him for our work, but also participate in his projects. Ben brings out the creativity in everyone around him and pushes us all to hold higher standards for ourselves and our work. 

1. Please introduce yourself, where you’re from, and what you do currently.

My name is Ben Zschunke, I am a filmmaker native to Minnesota. I attended UNC School of the Arts and earned my BFA in filmmaking in 2011 with a concentration in screenwriting and cinematography. Afterwards, I moved to New Orleans to find my place in their growing film industry. Today I’m a freelance director, cinematographer, and editor who has worked on videos for GQ, Vice, A$AP Ferg, Ceelo Green, and others.

2. Over the years you’ve experienced film sets across the country. What are some of the practices and outlooks you’ve seen no matter the place? What are some of the key differences?

  • Story is king. If your story stinks, your film will stink. Even B-movies have something compelling about them.
  • Respect your crew. Feed them, pay them, make sure they’re getting rest, shake their hand at the end of the day. I’ve worked for a 1st AD in NC who barked orders all day and it didn’t make me work any faster than when I worked for a 1st AD from New Orleans, the key difference is I enjoyed working for the New Orleans 1st AD more. This goes along with just being a kind person in general.
  • Blocking is more important than you think. Communicate the scene to your keys. If they don’t know what’s happening in the scene, no one does.
  • Treat indie productions like a Hollywood production. If you can be as professional as a seasoned LA filmmaker on an indie flick, you’re just as good plus you proved you can work on a small budget. Once you get the big money, you still do the same thing, just on a bigger scale.
  • Ask questions. Filmmakers love talking about their craft and you can learn a lot by asking them questions over a pint.
  • As much as you love making film, it’s still a business. My producing professor told this to me once and stuck with me since.

3. There is a lot of ongoing debate about film school vs on-set experience. As a graduate of UNC School of the Arts, what were some the pros and cons of that experience? What would you recommend to people who are starting to consider getting involved in video/film production?

I remember having this debate with my roommate in college my freshman year — we could stay in school and spend a bunch of money or drop out to start working on film sets. I’d say it was smart that we stayed in film school, specifically with the opportunities that we were offered at UNC School of the Arts. We had great facilities and equipment, really this was the only reason I chose UNCSA over Columbia in Chicago. Both are great schools but we were shooting on Arri SR2, SR3, Arri Alexa, RED Epic, with Cooke prime lenses, full grip and electric packages, studio space, while under the supervision of ASC and SOC members. We learned about a standard of filmmaking that I strive to reproduce on my sets. Not to mention, now I’m part of a network of alumni. Employers in the industry generally know UNCSA grads are good workers.

Now I’m not saying that it’s the only route. I’ve seen plenty of filmmakers come from non-filmmaking backgrounds or without any higher education altogether and do great work. I’ve even learned quite a bit after college, probably more at this point.

But what people really want to know is it worth the time and money? And I always answer, yes. Not only did I learn a vast amount technical skill but it gave me a giant leap up when applying for jobs or being useful on set. I could’ve been a grip or camera assistant for years before I got to be a director/dp at this current time.

4. What’s your favorite thing to do on set? Whether an individual position, a fun practice or tradition you have, whatever. The one thing you always look forward to no matter the production.

Besides having champagne at roll 100 or doing $5 Fridays, I always enjoy watching the monitor and realizing when something is gold. My whole demeanor changes and I get excited. I think I got it from my professor John LeBlanc while watching the monitor with him.

Not only that but seeing people react to films I’ve done is always exciting too. Blood, sweat, and tears on the screen and we all finally get to enjoy it. It’s really want filmmaking is all about and it’s easy to forget.

5. What brought you to New Orleans? What is one of your favorite video production experiences here in New Orleans? Any good lessons you learned here?

I came to New Orleans on the recommendation of my college roommate and other alums. They introduced me to some who got me a couple jobs. I remember asking myself why should I stay here though, and it was because I didn’t want to live in LA or NY or Atlanta. I wanted to start a career in a city where competition was lower and help raising the bar in terms of video production. It kind of goes hand-in-hand with how people felt about rebuilding this city after Katrina. A lot of the buildings and land was still untouched when I moved here and now I’ve grown with it. I feel like a part of the city.

My favorite experience in New Orleans was probably shooting A$AP Ferg’s video. It was during Mardi Gras and I got a last minute call to meet him out at the tour bus. We went to Hollygrove and shot him in front of a house still untouched since Katrina and then the whole neighborhood came out and got in the video. Then we met Manny Fresh in Gentilly and he was in the video. It was nuts! By the time we were done shooting it was 4am but it was worth it.

6. If you had to give one piece of advice to someone just starting out here in the film industry, especially if they’re just starting out here in New Orleans, what would be your main piece of advice?

Send out inquiries. I’ve met so many people that just sent out emails to people who had similar positions on FilmNewOrleans.org and got great advice or started working right away.

Check out Ben’s reel and make sure to follow/support The Polar Bear Club!

An Interview with Filmmaker Andrew Bui

An Interview with Filmmaker Andrew Bui

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We conducted an interview with filmmaker Andrew Bui, an editor/cinematographer based here in New Orleans.  Andrew brings a unique style to all his work and demonstrates a serious propensity for quality, original visual content. His social media presence is not only impressive but also incredibly fun to follow – his work is consistent, deliberate, and very stylistic. We love working with Andrew and are excited to help share his lessons.

1) Please introduce yourself, where you’re from/operate out of, and what you do.

Hi my name is Andrew Bui, I’m a cinematographer based in New Orleans, Louisiana.

2) Tell us a bit about how you got into film – when did you start working with cameras/editing, what were some of your influences, what may have pushed your development?

I developed an interest in video at a young age watching my dad and older brother work our old VHS Camcorder, it intrigued me although I never really understood how to work the camera and wasn’t allowed to actually use it. Throughout my pre-teen years I shifted my focus away from video, it wasn’t until my last year of middle school when my parents had purchased a Sony cybershot. Whenever I got the chance I would “borrow” that camera and make the most random videos. I’d film anything from myself playing basketball to footage of me lip-syncing some of my favorite tunes.

Once I discovered YouTube I realized there was a platform to post my videos to. I’d upload these really bad videos just because, to me it was awesome that you could upload something and than tell your friend to go watch it. I started a new YouTube channel with my friend and throughout my high-school years we’d come up with ideas for sketches and film and edit them, hoping to have one of our videos potentially go viral.

Some of my influences are Ryan Connolly, Devin Graham and Phillip Bloom.

The thing that really pushed my development was when I finally committed to choosing video as a career choice. Before that I had no clue what I was going to do with the rest of my life, I was a kid about to graduate unsure of what career path to go down.

3) A lot of your work has a strong documentary/filmic quality to it. You have a very authentic and “guerrilla” style while still maintaining rigorous visual standards. Can you explain your look in greater detail? What do you look for in your shots and editing?

It really depends on what I’m shooting and the gear I have at my disposal and how much time do I have to pull off the shots I need, but for the most part I like to get as much coverage as possible. I like to keep things as smooth and steady as possible when it comes to camera movement and have been sorta obsessed with investing into the tools that would help me achieve this.

When it comes to editing, a lot of the content I make I upload onto instagram. Recently instagram rolled out an update which allows users to now upload videos up to one minute. Before this update users would only be allowed 15 seconds or less so every second counted. I start off all my edits by selecting a musical piece that I feel fits the overall video. From there I cut the video according to the song making sure to select the most interesting and dynamic shots.

4) A lot of productions we see try to be very “DIY,” “indie,” or “guerrilla” in their practices. In our experience, a lot of this can come off as sloppy or amateur while other times it makes productions look very grounded/innovative. Do you agree with that sentiment? If so, what would you say are some of key differences between “guerrilla” and “sloppy” filmmaking?

I definitely agree that it can be seen as either one. To me it’s always been about how the shot turns out, if it’s a great shot and you used a DIY or Guerilla technique than kudos to you.
If you’re cutting corners and not using the right equipment because you want to save on time or money and the shot turns out bad, well than that’s just sloppy filmmaking.

5) How would you describe the New Orleans film/video community?

The New Orleans Film Community is great but I’d love to see more folks collaborating on projects more often or just shooting something in general. There are a few local organizations that have screenings for filmmakers to showcase their work to a live audience and get feedback from them.

6) If you had one piece of advice for someone new to the film/video industry, what would it be?

Pick up your camera or phone and go outside atleast once a day and film something.
Don’t be afraid to try different techniques with framing and composition.
There are so many platforms to share your work now so use every available social media site to post your content.

Follow Andrew on instagram, facebook, and beyond.