Tackling a scripted short is a challenge for many reasons. One of them, is that you lose a lot of your excuses. If you’re shooting an event and something is soft, over-exposed, or you just missed it, we can always say that it was just too darn fast. But on a scripted piece, all those reasons go away. In this case, we had months to prepare.

Then the question becomes, if you could light the scene however you want, what would you do? Here is our challenge as artists. We can often see so much further than we are capable of achieving. How do we stick to that vision and push our skill set as much as we can inside a given shoot?

And that too is one of the greatest opportunities in filmmaking. You can surround yourself with people who are better than you, people who can take your vision and find a way to execute it in ways beyond what you could imagine.

With My Utopia, we had the opportunity to bring in some amazing help. I’ve probably learned more being on set and paying attention to field audio, gaffers, or directors more than anything else.

Armed with a gaffer, grip, and a 4 ton truck full of lighting gear, we were able to pull off some pretty spiffy lighting tricks. And of course, we tried to be very intentional in how those spiffy tricks pushed the story.

My Utopia is a very personal story that is both bright and dark. The whole concept of My Utopia is that of a dream, yet as we follow this dream we learn what is hiding in the shadows. Our approach to the lighting was to embrace both sides; the light and the dark. Being such a personal and strong story, we wanted to push the lighting to also help carry this drama.

Here are 2 of our favorite scenes when it comes to the lighting, one light and the other dark. We’ll breakdown the lighting setup as well as the motivation behind each.

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You know how you meet some people and you just get this feeling like this will be a special collaboration. That’s what it felt like to meet Stephanie Henry while we were making #standwithme.

Last year Steph released her book If Only I Could Sleep. This year she asked if we could create a trailer to help get her book out there.

If Only I could Sleep share’s Stephanie’s story in growing up with a great deal of emotional and sexual abuse. The book shares her intensely personal journey to personal redemption and healing.

We started with the obvious – we could interview Stephanie, and a handful of other people related to her book, and slap that together with broll of her today along with elements from her childhood. That felt too simple, too safe, and like it really wouldn’t create a strong enough connection to who Stephanie was and what her world was like.

In reading her book we found a chapter where she shared a high school English assignment; she’d been asked to write about what her utopia, her perfect world.

Within If Only I Could Sleep they reprinted the entire essay she wrote in 10th grade, September of 1981. The essay offered a beautiful but heart-wrenching portrait of her perspective at 15. It was both honest and subtle. And it did what any good book trailer should do – it made you want to know more of Stephanie’s story. There it was the perfect monologue for our piece.

Rather than the traditional approach of interviewing Steph and several other people related to her book,  we could do something very different. We could recreate that day in the 1980’s when Steph read her essay in front of the class.

Steph loved the idea and believed in it (and us) enough to increase the budget to allow for a scripted piece. With that began months of pre-production for two days of production.

Until you’ve done it, you just don’t realize how much time can go into casting, art direction, lighting plots, and camera moves as you prepare for a scripted film.

Making our first scripted film, My Utopia, taught us just how much further you can push the story when you can control every element. We’re excited to share a series of blog posts on the cinematography, lighting, and art direction in the making of this film.

Our first post in the series is on the cinematography; camera choice, creating the overall look, and designing our toughest shot within the piece.

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There is one week left to send in your film for Storytelling Parade.

We all know people who devote all their time and energy to making change for the positive in the world. Every day, they are out there making the world a better place, bit by bit. It’s inspiring.

The thing is, we all want to do something inspiring. So often, however, everyday responsibilities and obligations can get in the way of that.  Sometimes, all you need is a little push, or something that makes our busy lives feel like, even in all this busy-ness, there is still time to go out and make something happen.

It’s pretty rare that someone approaches you with an opportunity to do that–tell a story that can make a real impact.

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Story & Heart’s Storytelling Parade contest is just that – your chance to do something that feeds your heart as well as your mind. It’s an opportunity to not only have the chance at winning amazing prizes (over $100K total).

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And the best part is it’s totally accessible to participate. This is something you can do with a little bit of spare time.

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When you look back on your personal journey, what are the most important decisions that got you where you are today? If you take a moment to really think about that, the answer is often one you totally didn’t expect. 

And perhaps more importantly, as you move forward, what are those decisions that you can make, those things that you can choose to do, that will make all the difference?

I got a chance to sit down with renowned cinematographer Shane Hurlbut and ask him about his path from a farm in upstate New York to the sets of multi-million dollar blockbusters.

Shane is a real deal Hollywood DP. Think Terminator Salvation, Act of Valor, We Are Marshall, Need For Speed, and so many more.

This is a world I know almost nothing about. I mean, we just celebrated shooting out first short narrative at the same time Shane was color correcting his latest feature, Fathers & Daughters. This guy has a library’s worth of knowledge he could teach us.

But what few of you probably know is that Shane grew up on a farm. Much of his boyhood spent on a tractor in the wee hours of the morning long before school started.

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So how does a farm boy working the fields all day find himself getting dropped off in Key West, ushered into a small Zodiac thats headed into the Atlantic, with nothing as far as the eye can see. Then all of a sudden – boom! – a 600 ft nuclear sub blasts out of the ocean, he’s hopping in, and three days later winds up in the horn of Africa.


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As Shane wrapped up that story he asked the somewhat rhetorical question “How many people have experienced that?” Not many, that’s for sure.

And that’s what I wanted to explore on the call. How did he get here? And what were those decisions, those defining moments, that have made all of the difference on his journey? And what has he learned along the way?

What I found out will certainly surprise you.

Sure, Shane is exceptional at what he does. That’s certainly no secret. But beyond his ability to craft with light or push story through every decision he makes, there’s something far greater he can teach us.

So little of his success has to do with his ability to light or shoot.

Here are the five biggest things Shane has learned on his journey.

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At Stillmotion, we are always under tight deadlines, but not like this.

Picture this – you’re an editor with a crew that has two days to produce, direct, shoot and edit a short film that will be seen by millions exactly 48 hours after you have the concept. From start to finish, and with not even an inch of wiggle room if something goes awry.

 If you’re Adam Epstein, editor for Saturday Night Live’s film unit, this isn’t an every once in a while-type event. Every single week, Adam has less than 24 hours to turn around an edit that’s ready for broadcast just in time for SNL’s iconic “Live from New York…” to hit the airwaves. As Lorne Michaels says, “It doesn’t go on because it’s done. It goes on because it’s 11:30.”

After five seasons of this madness, Adam is hitting the road this summer on MZed’s The Cutting Edge Post-Production Tour to share the methods, theories, techniques he’s developed while editing in a lightning-fast turn around environment like SNL.

 We had the privilege of being able to check out Adam’s workshop when he came by Portland, and it’s seriously awesome.  The workshop delves deep into the technical side of things, but what makes it every cooler is that Adam shares a lot about the art and soul behind what makes a good editor, too.  As Adam says in his workshop, being an editor today encompasses so much – you have to know how to cut, know rhythm and story, be a compositor, a sound designer, a motion graphics artist, and maybe more importantly you have to be able to deal with people. But, according to Adam, none of that is as important as the why – the overall feeling and bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish.

We had a chance to ask him first-hand how he turns around hilarious, memorable work, and stays sane in the process.

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