TRAVELING AND FILMING THROUGH AN AMERICAN LENS

Posted by on Jun 27, 2016 in blog | Comments Off on TRAVELING AND FILMING THROUGH AN AMERICAN LENS

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Let me create the scene for you. I was in Jamaica for a shoot. Traveling with me to the next location was another Black American, a Jamaican and a West African/Brit. The other American and I were snapping photos, enraptured. The color! The ebony black skin! Black people everywhere! Nature! Our two other traveling companions were unfazed. They hopped in the car. It was in this moment that the idea for this article began to germinate. There was nothing wrong with our enthusiasm but … was it an American enthusiasm? I’ve spoken passionately about the potential detriment of seeing foreign countries through a white male gaze. But what about the American gaze? (more…)

Shooting Virtual Reality for G-Technology & Reebok

Posted by on May 28, 2015 in blog | Comments Off on Shooting Virtual Reality for G-Technology & Reebok

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Cybel Martin and Lexi Alexander. Infront of 360 Heros RV

Welcome to the Wild Wild West. Virtual Reality is the playground where filmmakers, gamers, visual FX and tech geeks collide. It’s brand new, unruly and exhilarating to shoot.

I was the Director of Photography on a Virtual Reality (VR) shoot for G-Technology. Directed by Lexi Alexander and produced by Lucas Wilson from Supersphere Productions. Our main talent were Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai champions: Zoila Frausto, Alexis Davis, Gaston Bolanos and Kevin Ross. (more…)

Winter Is Bleak. But It Does Increase Production Value. Cybel DP’s Tips for Shooting in Cold Weather

Posted by on Feb 13, 2015 in blog | Comments Off on Winter Is Bleak. But It Does Increase Production Value. Cybel DP’s Tips for Shooting in Cold Weather

 

I hate winter. But I adore how it looks on film. Dusting of snowflurries, dangling icicles, frosty breath are wonderfully cinematic. A field blanketed in snow can be mysterious, romantic, epic, portending death …or enlightenment. Film production (on the east coast) is very slow between November and March. Partially because of the holidays, award season and Sundance/Berlin Film Festivals. But also because it’s a pain to shoot in winter (from finding PAs who can drive on ice, to adequate well heated holding for cast/crew/extras, to keeping crew and equipment warm, comfortable and safe on set). (more…)

In Search of Films that Reflect Me

Posted by on Jan 20, 2015 in blog | Comments Off on In Search of Films that Reflect Me

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The above image is from an ad my Mom created for the organization, BOCA (The Black Owned Communications Alliance). It should give you some idea of how I was raised.

I’m aware of the importance of seeing positive images of yourself in film/tv/media. But as a filmmaker and lover of film, I also believe a film should reflect the director’s reality. Not mine. These two beliefs often come to blows when evaluating/enjoying a film. As was the case with “Whiplash”. (more…)

How a Cinematographer Sees the Art of Sound

Posted by on Nov 24, 2014 in blog | Comments Off on How a Cinematographer Sees the Art of Sound

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Dear White People’s” use of Schubert’s Piano Trio in E Flat made me giddy. I’ve always associated that piece of music with Kubrick’s “Barry Lyndon” and loved it being reimagined for a modern tale of love, deceit and identity crisis.

Camera department gets a lot of attention but the sound for your film shouldn’t be an after-thought. It is the audio component (Texture of an actor’s voice. Ominous sound effects. Enchanting score) that solidifies the audience’s suspension of disbelief. David Lynch, a director who is always asking us to believe in the bizarre, said it perfectly: “sound is a great “pull” into a different world. And it has to work with the picture – but without it you’ve lost half the film.” (more…)

5 Tips For The DP Whose Director Is Also The Lead Actor #DPNotes

Posted by on Sep 15, 2014 in blog | Comments Off on 5 Tips For The DP Whose Director Is Also The Lead Actor #DPNotes

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I just finished shooting the feature film, “Queen of Glory” directed, written and starring Nana Mensah. This was the first time I worked with a Director who was also the lead in our film. Not only was Nana the lead, she was in every scene.

If I have the opportunity to shoot for a Director/Lead Actor again, these are five tips I will definitely adhere to: (more…)

How to Guarantee Your First Professional Color Grading Session is a Success #DPNotes

Posted by on Apr 24, 2014 in blog | Comments Off on How to Guarantee Your First Professional Color Grading Session is a Success #DPNotes

 

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Congratulations. You’ve graduated from presenting your video footage as is or altering some colors and contrast in After Effects to hiring a professional Colorist/DI Specialist. Now your film can realize its full visual potential.

Here are my guidelines to getting optimal results at your color correct session.

Before I begin, I want to share my philosophy on cinematography. This is not the same for every DP. Perhaps because I “cut my teeth” shooting film, I prefer to commit to the look in camera. (Some DPs prefer a flat image that they alter in post.)

My philosophy is to create/dream in pre-production, commit in production and confirm and finesse in post. In prep, the director and I pour over films, photographs etc and have fun dreaming up our film’s visuals. In production, I use my lights, film emulsions/camera settings and lenses to commit about 90% to the final image. In post, I confirm our original intention for the cinematography and use the talents of my Colorist/DI Specialist to further enhance our creative choices. (more…)

Can Guerrilla Filmmaking Become an Addiction? My Thoughts on the Tragic Loss of Sarah Jones

Posted by on Mar 7, 2014 in blog | Comments Off on Can Guerrilla Filmmaking Become an Addiction? My Thoughts on the Tragic Loss of Sarah Jones

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Sarah Jones was kin. I never had the pleasure of meeting her, so let’s call her my distant cousin “on the camera department side”. I look at her photograph and immediately connect with her exuberance. Huge smile. Huge camera. Film production can really be that awesome. I’ve always likened film crews to a family. Dysfunctional. But still family. This family has a habit, passed on from generation to generation, of evading authority for the “greater art”.

Orson Welles was our Godfather of Rebellion. From “The Making of Citizen Kane”:

“To keep studio execs off his back, Orson Welles claimed the cast and crew were “in rehearsal” during the first few days of shooting, when in fact they were actually shooting the film. It took a number of days before the studio caught on.”

I’ve always loved that story but thought of it differently after Sarah’s death. How can I reconcile my love for renegade filmmakers with a genuine panic that below the line’s safety is an after thought?

When It Comes to Films & Travel Shows Shot Abroad, Who Else Should Be In Front of or Behind the Camera?

Posted by on Jan 24, 2014 in blog | Comments Off on When It Comes to Films & Travel Shows Shot Abroad, Who Else Should Be In Front of or Behind the Camera?

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My friends know I’m happiest when traveling. Multiply that joy by ten if I get to travel and work. So I get a little miffed by two occurrences: how rare I see films about African Americans traveling. And how frequently I see white men as the only on-air talent, photographers, writers and film crew for a travel show or documentary. They may have been credited with “discovering” foreign lands centuries ago but couldn’t we all benefit from seeing diverse perspectives on international travel now? (more…)

Cybel DP’s 15 Unconventional Tips to Making a Low Budget Film More Extravagant

Posted by on Dec 6, 2013 in blog | Comments Off on Cybel DP’s 15 Unconventional Tips to Making a Low Budget Film More Extravagant

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“It’s always good to make up for a lack of (financial) means with an increase in imagination.”

— Wim Wenders

Friends who know me, know I really dislike talking about limitations. I prefer to dream big and be optimistic. I’m a “let’s put on a show! ” type optimist.

However, I will need to dip my toe into the murky pool of limitations for a second. Stay with me.

There are a lot of indie films being made with fascinating stories. Yet too many have mediocre to painful to look at visuals and poor production value. We can adjust our approach to storytelling and raise the bar of expectations regardless of budget.

I’m sure that I speak for many DPs. I’ve no delusions of shooting the next Bond film but hoped for more, given my experience, education & resources, than interviewing to shoot on a 5D in the director’s apartment. I “should” be shooting features with $3-10m budgets but US film production has lost it’s middle class. Or as DP Ryan Walters says in his post “Three Reasons Why It’s Bad Business to be a Cinematographer”, there is an “evaporation of the middle market”.

I love our Indie Film producers, even though they speak with limitations. Many are of the “we don’t have. You can’t have” variety. A film crew’s natural instinct is to problem solve & figure a way to make your film better. However, many producers hear our requests as saying they are incompetent or that crew wants to cheat them out of more money. Make too many suggestions & we can be labelled difficult and replaced. So we keep quiet. And you get what you get.

In 2012, 2% of films were shot by female DPs. When I am offered a gig, the last thing I want to do is lose it to someone who “looks more like a DP” because my inquiries and suggestions deem me “hard to work with”.

In the same way I gave advice that 1st time doc filmmakers are unlikely to hear, here are some creative suggestions I wish low budget directors would entertain and their producers be open to. (more…)