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ViDoc: Inn Marin and Redwood Credit Union

Redwood Credit Union is quickly becoming one of my favorite businesses to work with because of how they interact with not only their vendors (like myself) or with one another, but especially with how they treat their customers. Redwood is a pretty big business with an uncharacteristically small-business mindset. I've done a few video documentaries (ViDocs) for them in recent months, and there is a pattern that I have noticed each of their clients touch at least once: they don't feel like just a number. 

On set for their most recent ViDoc in Novato, CA (just north of my home base of San Francisco) I got to meet John and Robert Marshall, owners and operators of Inn Marin and Ricky's Restaurant. Like Redwood, Inn Marin is not a "typical" hotel experience. In Robert's words, they "hire smiles, not skills." That was pretty evident, as the folks I met while on their property were all incredibly friendly and courteous. The grounds were gorgeous, which made capturing b-roll not only easy, but enjoyable. 

As you might have noticed, this particular job required both brothers be on camera at the same time, meaning capturing audio was more complicated than usual. I am a big fan of lav mics, specifically RODE and Sennheiser mics. Here I had to use both, one on each brother, and each audio line was recorded through a different camera. 

The other way you could do this, which I opted not to and often do not do, is to split the stereo line and record a different audio line through each side of the stereo recording, in mono. It requires a stereo splitter, which isn't very expensive at all, and dealing with splitting and then re-enabling stereo across the two split audio lines in post. Since I have two mics available, I opted for option one. It's a matter of preference though, and either works just fine. 

I used two cameras for this setup: a Panasonic GH4 and a Canon XC-10. I let the GH4 record in standard picture, but the Canon I had record in Canon LOG profile, so that matching footage later would be far easier. I do this a lot, and have found that the Canon LOG profile is pretty good at remaining flexible to match with what is a lot "bluer" footage out of the GH4. 

I like to keep my productions small, compact and mobile. You'll notice I don't have fancy rigs or matteboxes on my cameras, because I have found them to be pretty unnecessary in most circumstances. For larger productions that require sets and lighting, sure they would be helpful. But for doing interviews and documentaries with real people, I have found that keeping as low a profile as possible helps the on-camera talent relax. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm them with a lot of production. They'll freeze up and have a hard time saying what you need them to say. 

Ideally I'm not on a project alone, and I'm really glad that my contact for this project (and creative director on set) was there for me. Priscilla is an awesome person to work with and makes producing content for Redwood fun and engaging.

Priscilla, my creative director on this project, using my Lowepro Echelon bag as her director's chair.

Priscilla, my creative director on this project, using my Lowepro Echelon bag as her director's chair.

In the end we were able to produce a commercial for Redwood that was truthful, honest and most importantly, real. Doing these kinds of video testimonial projects are always my favorite because I enjoy hearing stories from real people recounting actual experiences. It's what I'm all about, and I'm happy to say that's also what Redwood Credit Union is all about. 

Casey Neistat Nails It Again: Why You NEED To Work a Crappy Job

Casey Neistat is basically one of my heroes, and his video blog is awesome (a video blog he only started this year). In this particular episode, I've skipped the video ahead to one segment that absolutely could not ring truer for me:

You see, I completely agree, especially when he gets to the part about "golden handcuffs." I used to work a rather easy job that I absolutely hated. Grey walls, horrible top-heavy management structure in a financial company I could honestly not possibly care less about. I did absolute doldrums work for years being forced to do things for people I not only didn't like, worse, I didn't respect. Maybe it's a problem with me, maybe not, but the fact of the matter is I hated that job, and hating that job burned a fiery passion inside of me, forcing me to think and dream daily of what I would rather be doing. 

Eventually, I quit (I also quit the job I had right after that one, which was basically a similar situation), and started doing what I wanted to do: being a San Francisco filmmaker. And it felt so good. But the only reason I did it and the only reason I was able to grasp how badly I wanted to do my own thing was because I was forced to do something I hated. 

I love the lesson Casey is teaching his son, and I would do the same for mine (if I had one) in a heartbeat. 

From Jet to Jet: Being the Photographer for the United Air Force Thunderbirds

It's over 100 degrees fahrenheit in the shade on a blistering spring day in Phoenix, Arizona. At Luke Air Force base, you would be wise to find cover under an awning or the rare palm tree as the sun baked the flat landscape. Strangely I'm not as affected by the heat today as I am on other days. There is simply too much on my mind. I've been spending the past two days reassuring one of my best friends that he's going to do great, that he will indeed withstand 9 G's and maintain consciousness. 

His name is Blair Bunting, and his video you've probably already seen.

But this story isn't about Blair, the heat or even me. This story is about the man I met on the tarmac of Luke Air Force Base by chance as he held a Nikon D610 to his eye, stopping history one frame at a time in photojournalistic fashion. 

This is the story of Sergeant Larry Reid Jr., United States Air Force Photojournalist, and how his job is one of the most incredible stories I have ever had the pleasure of telling. 

Sergeant Reid is one of a very small group of people who not only gets to call himself a Thunderbird, but also whose job it is to go up in that F16 fighter jet and is tasked with capturing images of the planes in flight, whether he be in formation or in chase (behind the formation). 

"My favorite part about my job is capturing moments. Capturing moments that not a lot of people get to see," he told me. Reid is an Air Force pilot through and through, but he is also a photojournalist. He is a creative, and is given creative freedom to produce the greatest images possible. 

"I believe that in order to be good, and to better yourself and push yourself, you have to have that creative control. On this team, I have that." Reid's top cover, his leadership, trusts him to make the right calls when it comes to producing images, and Reid takes that responsibility incredibly seriously. 

In order to produce amazing images in a tiny bubble flying at an excess of 500 miles per hour, Reid has some very specific methods that he has developed. For one, he wears black flight gloves and a grey helmet, breaking in tradition with the rest of the Thunderbirds who wear the American red, white and blue whenever possible. "The red white and blue helmet will reflect in that canopy," he told me. "So I opt to wear a grey one." The grey helmet also carries a matte finish, significantly reducing the amount of reflection and glare it would knock into the canopy. He also has two specially designed black cloths that he drapes over the control panel and his personal buckles over his chest to further block reflections. 

Sergeant Reid has the art of taking photos from an F16 down to a beautiful science, and it shows in his absolutely incredible images.  

Reid isn't just the Air Force's air-to-air photographer, he is also tasked with documenting every important situation where he is present. He has to be ready at the drop of a hat to get those images. In order to shoot this feature, we needed to steal Sergeant Reid for a short time (30-45 minutes), but even in that small window things can come up. During our first attempt at the interview, Reid was suddenly called away to photograph the Undersecretary of the Air Force and he could not say no.

Despite the hustle it takes to do his job well, I don't think Sergeant Reid would want to be doing anything else. He truly loves his job and it shows on his face and in his imagery. 

I would like to thank Sergeant Larry Reid Jr. for his time, the United States Air Force and the USAF Thunderbirds for allowing me to make this video and for letting me use one of their hangers, and to Blair Bunting for introducing me to all these great people. 

For more, head over to Fstoppers, SLR Lounge and Photofocus. Different parts of the story are relayed in each place, so they are all worth checking out.