How I Thrived as a Filmmaker During a Pandemic (by making really bad films).

Pandemics, they’re the worst, amirite? We’re rounding nearly a year of a “new normal” and while hope is in sight, it’s still pretty far off. As a commercial director and filmmaker, this year has been particularly “interesting” for my career, but with a little innovation, some clever marketing, and a very open mind, I was able to make the best of it, and even, dare I say, thrive, even if not how I expected.

Flashback a year ago and I was just starting to hit a stride in my career. I had been in SHOOT magazines Top 30 New Director’s Showcase, had my first rep, and was directing broadcast spots for Nike, Google and Honda. Finally, I thought, years of hard work and dedication were starting to pay off.

Then someone ate a bat bisque and my life, like everyone’s, was put on hold.

A month in, when everyone stopped calling and all active projects were shelved indefinitely, I realized I had to make some creative moves. The first thing I did was put together a little documentary that I shot with a friend about these funky, rare cookbooks called Italy In Bocca. It was just a passion project, something I could shoot single handedly about a subject I hold dear to my heart (my stomach), and it just made me feel good to make something heartwarming when the world was falling apart; call it the filmmaker’s equivalent to baking bread. I built a simple little website for it, attached the World Foodbank to the project, worked with Atlas Obscura in promoting it, and started doing interviews with celeb chefs that now, like all of us, had time on their hands to talk to random strangers. The project raised some money, helped out some people in need, and ended up bringing in some welcomed attention that ultimately attached itself to some small projects. Little did I realize that this would be the beginning of a new way of filmmaking for me.

Starting with something you are passionate about can bring welcomed attention to new work.

It was clear that everyone was looking for new media, so I started reaching out to brands that I really liked, and creating content just on spec for them; mostly in trade for product or a very (very) small budget. Like most modern filmmakers, I am fortunate enough to be able to do a bit of everything even if not very well. From shooting, to editing, to even some light After Effects, these days it’s easier then ever to have full production capabilities in your living room. I tried being as creative as possible, working with whatever limitations the quarantine brought. For example, for Aegis, a data security company, my friend worked for, I was able to pitch the following idea, using a simple camera trick and remotely directing an actor on his phone, allowing me to safely turn one actor into five.

Shot on a cellphone with me on speakerphone you can easily turn one actor into five.

When I had a handful of these self produced projects completed I launched, which was my answer to “contactless content creation”, a search term I saw skyrocketing in Google Analytics. Before long I was getting calls from all types of brands looking to do a wide range of work; from simple instructional videos, to fully budgeted spots. While my goal as a director naturally been to focus solely on bigger and more complex work, I now found myself happily playing all the roles in production, using every asset around me to its fullest, and getting to work with new brands every week.

Recently I just finished doing spots for Dosist, an elevated cannabis company, and Dennis Buys Cars, a crazy, used car salesman. Brand-wise they couldn’t be more different, but because I was able to offer a one person production team and hand-crafted concepts, they were equally eager to have content created for them. I don’t think I would have ever had the opportunity to work with either one of these brands before the pandemic; I don’t even know if they would have been on my radar. Now however I realize the best thing to come out of this whole shut-down has been how it’s opened up my eyes to new possibilities by just putting yourself out there, and sometimes trying to make the worst film possible ends up being your best option.

Good, fast, cheap; pick two doesn’t apply when you are trying to make a bad commercial on purpose.

I know a lot of filmmakers are going through strange times like everyone is. It can be depressing, unmotivating, and devastating economically, which is why I wanted to share my story, and offer three key concepts that not only got me through this time, but have let me further my filmmaking career during this crazy slump.

  1. Take Inventory

Taking inventory of what you have to offer is probably the best place to start if you want to see immediate results in creative productivity. For many of us, we were on some sort of path in our career, but when the pandemic hit, the road forward seemed to end abruptly. Taking inventory of what you have available is a way to cut a new path forward. What kind of gear do you have, or can have access to? It doesn’t have to be a RED or Alexa that you are used to shooting with on set, it could be your phone, a GoPro or even VHS. Anything becomes a tool when you use it as such. Do you have access to other professionals or actors now with time on their hands? How about locations? Your living room, a garage, a nearby park. Just taking inventory and making a list will spur creativity.

2. Take Initiative

The second most important thing to do is create. Anything. Use everything at your disposal to make something. For me (because I like to eat) I found it easy to make something about cooking. It was something I knew I could shoot, edit, and distribute without having to rely on anyone else. If there was something I needed to do, like build a website, now was a perfect time to watch some tutorials and put new knowledge into action. Making something you know you can complete with what you have available to you is key in connecting with new clients and more work.

3. Take Chances

One beautiful about the world is falling down all around you is the ease in which you can take big chances. Normally if you are on some career path, you want to make “smart” choices. Work with the “right” brands, do the “right” work, so that you can move forward in a specific direction. For me this was an extremely liberating time, offering the opportunity to take wild chances not just on new brands and clients, but creatively as well. For Ooni Pizza Ovens I did an entire multi-tiered campaign from my kitchen and backyard, cloning multiple versions of myself to create a full cast of characters even, despite being very shy of the camera. Gulp.

It’s been a crazy, crazy year without questions. For me, that resulted in getting crazy with the work. I’ve been told before that if you want people to take you seriously, you need to focus on one direction and master it. It would seem that during this time, the opposite would prove true. Open up your horizons, lend your unique perspective to brands and subjects that you normally wouldn’t have considered. I feel extremely lucky to have made it through this rough time creatively, and done some unique work that opened up new doors to me, and what’s more, connect me with new people, especially when the world is set on keeping us distanced from one another.


Roberto Serrini is a filmmaker and editor based in Los Angeles and NYC. His work can be seen at or his new contactless content creation production hub

A word about Martin Scorsese and his lost documentary “Street Scenes” from 1970.

Martin Scorsese is in the news a lot these days. He’s got a new movie coming out, The Irishman, which is a big event for the 76 year old director, but mostly people are talking about his comments that Marvel movies are not “cinema”. Here is the exact quote, probably taken out of context:

“I don’t see them. I tried, you know? … Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.”

The comment sounds pretty much like anyone’s grandfather, and the fact that it sparked a global debate is what I find interesting. We’re talking about words here, and their power, and that is something that is very relevant today, regardless of what you think about superhero movies. The term “cinema” (and I mean “term”) meant something different during Scorsese’s time then it did before him, or now. When he learned the term it was the time of the New Wave, the Cahier du Cinema, independent filmmaking, the great revolution in American film that seperated flickers from movies, and movies from cinema. It was a classification that had a distinct definition to it, and most of us grew up watching cinema, learning from the greats before us.

Simply put there was no such thing as CG. It wasn’t part of cinema, or movies, or flickers. Claymation or animation was the closest thing that you had probably, and most movies were considered cheap, except for maybe Fantasia, which I bet Scorsese wouldn’t consider cinema either. Cinema to Scorsese meant live action humans creating a story through the visual medium of film that changed the perception of the viewer in a completely realistic manner. I know because he speaks about it in Scorsese on Scorsese.

One thing to note is Scorsese is one of the biggest film theorist and historians we have. His opinions matters simply put since he can see the whole scope of the history of film. For modern film goers, Marvel films might be some of the only films they’ve ever seen, and they take offense to this type of comments, but in reality this type of CG blockbuster is a mere ten minutes into the 24 hour day that makes up the history of filmmaking. Like it or not, I understand Scorsese’s point, and while a bit rude, I can understand what he means. It’s also just his opinion folks.

Again though what is most fascinating is the word “cinema” and the meaning, or change of meaning it is going through. I think that some of the Marvel films are certainly cinematic and deserve to be called cinema as much as Citizen Kane or Taxi Driver. I just find it amazing how people can argue so violently about the words they use and not see that the meaning is the same. I see both sides of the fence, and think this is a prime example of how words can have power, and how that power can change or grow over a generation.

News, president, war, Wall Street, racism, loan, news, socialism, Russia, fact, there are a lot of words I feel have taken on different feelings since I learned them. Their meanings might stay the same, as in their definitions, but the feeling behind it, the “terms” in which we use them change a lot. I came across this documentary that Scorsese did in the 70’s when the students were revolting in disagreement to the war. It’s fascinating to see, to hear the people’s language and think about our present condition here in the United States. It’s amazing sometimes to see how far we haven’t come, or how we just have changed the words we use for the same problems.



Italian Sporting Bikes of the 70’s

I love 3 things: Motorcycles, Movies and my mother. (I’m Italian)

Sometimes, when the god’s favor me, I get to combine two of those (my mother doesn’t ride).

May I introduce Italian Sporting Bikes of the 70’s hosted by the madmen at Union Garage in Brooklyn and the fine folk at Alpinestars.


Shoot’s DGA 2017 New Director’s Showcase & Me.

My short film about love, and loosing love, Unattended Baggage, was selected to be in the 2017 New Director’s Showcase presented by Shoot Magazine and the DGA. I was quite honored. Here is the film:

They gave me a questionnaire. I answered those questions about being a filmmaker. Those answers are here:

Im very serious about my work. I’m very not serious about questionnaires. I enjoy living this dichotomy.

Anyway, if you care to find out what my favorite word is (protean, or, perhaps, quince) then by all means, give an eye.

It was an honor to have this film screen… also a bit strange, given how personal it was. In the end, just nice to have an audience and have your work acknowledged.

How To Get a Vimeo Staff Pick.


So clickbait, amirite?

This essay isn’t really about how to get a Vimeo Staff Pick. I am fortunate to have a couple of my films to have been showcased on Vimeo’s Parthenon of special Staff Picks, but I couldn’t tell you a recipe on how secure your acceptance. Besides, other people have offered their advice on the subject, so why add to the noise.

What I do want to discuss is why some of my films become Staff Picks, and other’s perhaps not.

I have upward of 600 films on Vimeo. Each unique pieces of work, a mixture of client driven and personal projects. Somewhere along the way I left the ranks of an office worker and dedicated my full-time to being a filmmaker. I say filmmaker because I direct, shoot, and edit. It’s totally consuming, and even when I’m not “working” I’m still working. Like they say however, if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. That is true.

Even though I have some compelling work with famous athletes or well-known actors or insane SFX, there are a few films that really resonated with the Vimeo staff. What I find interesting is that they are all projects I did on my own dime, with my own crew, and were totally self-produced. I think this is an important point for any filmmaker.

This last film, “Heretic” is a short documentary about Douglas Little. Douglas is an amazing guy; he’s one of the creative visual geniuses behind sleep no more, an award-winning designer, but what put him on my radar was actually my girlfriend. She forwarded me an article about this guy who makes personalized perfume in his baroque upper west side apartment. He sounded absolutely mad, and I really wanted to meet him.

So I wrote him an email.

I basically said I was a filmmaker, and make short docs about people I find interesting. I asked if he would be interested in shooting a short doc in his apartment. He said yes.

I’ll pause here for a second to explain why these short docs are so important to me. I love narrative work, both commercially and otherwise. Docs though hold a special place in my heart. Living in a city like New York you are literally surrounded by people whose stories are always as or more interesting than most narratives. These are real people, who are your neighbors, your office mates, your friends even. Their stories are already written and all you need to do is record them. For me the short doc is an easy day at the filmmaking gym; just bring your gear and work it out.

For Douglas, along for others I’ve done, I like to keep the crew real small. Just 3 or 4 people. Maybe two lights if any. Good sound. It makes it fast and easy to move around, and easy on the subject too. I’m sure Douglas was open to having 5 people in his living room instead of a crew of a dozen.

I also move fast and cover everything. I have a set list of questions, but really just want to have a conversation with my subject. I find out what’s interesting about them on the spot. What’s fantastic is there is no consequence; there is no client, no one paying you, so it really doesn’t matter if you get something or not, you’re there to experience someone and no more. It’s the going commando of filmmaking and it’s amazing.

Finally you must have fun with it. The crew I roll with is all other filmmakers and shooters. Since there is no client it become professional playtime, meaning we get to use all the toys we never do on paid sets because we’re not exactly sure what they will do. Russian anamorphic glass you bought on-line, a weird 360 camera you want to cut your teeth on, even an old 8mm film camera you found at your grandparents. We get weird, really weird with it, and it makes for some very interesting footage. Weird angles, strange lighting, you name it, the weirder the better. Leave it to the editor to figure out.

That’s me also. I love and hate editing like most editors do. When it’s tedious, it’s life sucking, but when its good, it’s mind-blowing. When I do a personal project like this because there is no consequence to anything we’re doing, it becomes extremely enjoyable. I make some editorial decisions that are frankly horrible and I love it.

In the end what happens is a few things. You get to meet someone who is very interesting. You get to learn and invent new techniques and gear, and you get to try something new in post that may or may not make sense. It’s basically the Jackson Pollock style of filmmaking; throw it against the canvas and see what sticks.

Now I’m sure some people will say that a planned line of attack is a much better use of a filmmakers time, and yes, there is a time and place for that. However if you consider that it takes half a day to shoot, and maybe a week to edit one of these films, it really isn’t that much of a risk.

The result has always been rewarding, not just from accolades, but from the experience of meeting new people and working with my core crew. One film we did together about master mechanic Peter Boggia went on to win a few great festivals and even brought Peter and I over to Italy for a month-long, once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle trip. This latest film about Douglas has spurred a bunch of new work from new clients, which I wouldn’t have even know how to approach otherwise. What I’m saying is that while paid work is great, it’s usually the personal projects that stand out, and often get the new work knocking at your door. What’s more it doesn’t really cost anything to produce, other than some lunch for your friends.

So how do you get a Vimeo Staff Pick? No idea, but if you know please tell me. In the meantime just email someone interesting, grab a camera and a friend, and go make a short doc, you won’t be disappointed.


Roberto Serrini is a professional Filmmaker who records his adventures in word, photography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at where he can be contacted as well.

How To Make A Good Drone Film.

Drones. We all got drones. Everybody is doing the drone thing, amarite? I mean there is even a Drone Film Festival in NYC (which I’m a judge of;) so lemme tell ya when I say drone vids are a dime a dozen, they are.

So, how do you make a good one? How do you make one that stands out? One that people actually watch, and dare I say it, share?

Well, here are a few tips I use when making my vids, and things I look for in other flyer’s vids. Just some armchair advice, and you can’t beat the price.

  1. Shoot it right. 

This should be a no brainer but like cooking or construction if you use crap material, you get a crap product. So what do I mean “shoot it right”? Here’s a few things to think about while flying:

  • Fly steady. Do long sweeping moves. Try to ease in and out of panning shots. This is where the skill is in flying.
  • Know what you’re shooting at. Flying into the sun can be cool, but it usually isn’t. Be aware of propeller shadow hitting your lens (e.g. don’t fly 45 degrees to the sun)
  • Use a ND filter. This will slow down your shutter, and keep your footage more cinematic. Don’t have a ND filter? You can tape a piece of exposed 35mm film over the front of your lens. That one’s for free.
  • Be interesting. Sure you can go high, but the best drone footage has movement. If you are ballsy enough fly through something (safely people) or easier, set up a shot where you fly sideways across something, e.g. a wall, coastline or even a fence, you’ll get a cool shot.
  • Set your camera up right. Many of you have seen my post on the “best” settings for drone footage. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Also, I always opt for more resolution over frame rate. It will give you more latitude in post bringing me to my second point:

2. Dress up your footage. 

Sure, you can upload your entire clip to YouTube and let it rot there with the millions of others, or, you can do some dress up in post. Don’t be afraid of post, frankly it’s more fun then flying sometimes, and will make the difference between amateur footage and pro footage. Here’s some tips:

  • Cut it down. Then cut it down some more. Then cut it down, once again. Drone videos don’t need to be over 2 minutes ever. 30 seconds is actually totally appropriate. Short and sweet is the best rule of thumb here, choose your best moments, and get out.
  • Think story. I know you’re just shooting a field, or the ocean, or a strip mall, but build a story. Could be anything; start low and go high. Maybe try alternating closer shots with wider shots. Build a story, like you are leading a viewer on a ride. I alway re-order my clips (that’s editing;) so that they tell a story, abstract as it may seem.
  • Think backwards. Don’t be afraid to reverse your footage. 80% of the time I will have my shots playback in reverse, reason being is because with most drones, especially Phantoms, you can fly backwards faster and without the props getting in the shot. Reverse this and you look like Ice Man from Top Gun. Just make sure there are no people, or waves in the shots, or it might look a little weird.
  • Get weird with it. I know I just said be careful not to get weird with it, but I definitely want you to get weird. 99% of all drone films are just beautiful footage from the sky. Thats cool. Sometimes it’s real refreshing to see something new, weird, and edgy. Mix in B roll, stuff on the ground, handheld. Turn the image upside-down, that will make your head spin. Stand out footage will make you stand out.
  • Color Correct and Optical Correct always. Your footage isn’t really done when it comes out of the camera, it’s half done. If you can, shoot “flat” or “protune” to have latitude in post to color correct. Massage your contrast, grade your film, and give it a look. I guarantee you will make it 100 times better. Another great thing to do is optically correct the footage. Most footage coming out of the camera will have a pretty noticeable fish-eye on it. It will look like you shot it through a hotel door. Most programs, like After Effects, have a “optical correct” plugin that you can slap on your footage. Here’s a good tutorial that I every time without fail. Pro Tip: click the “optimal Pixel” checkbox. It will “bow” the top and bottom of your footage. Then just change your frame/canvas size to crop the image. This will give you the most resolution and a nice letterbox.

3) Music

I can’t stress this one enough. Good music makes good footage. Music is so important to film in general, but it goes triple for drone footage. A sweeping orchestral piece will elevate and give your film gravitas. Something electronic and modern will give it an edgy feel. Depending on what you want your film to be, music is the vehicle to get you there. You can use a famous song, but beware, some sites may not let you post it. Or you can go to a site like pond5 to get some cheap tracks that can be used anywhere. Even finding something at can get you on the right track, so to speak.

Here is a little side by side of ungraded and graded footage:

And here is the final film with music:

that’s it really, three solid rules to follow when thinking about drone films. This is a special genre of film and relatively still new, so there is lots of room to bend and break these “rules” but I guarantee if you are at least thinking about them, you’re going to have a better end result. If you don’t I’ll be happy to refund your money.

Happy flying!


Roberto Serrini is a NYC based commercial director, editor, and avid drone operator. His work can be seen at

Aaron Sorkin’s Master Class

Much like a pair of Ugg’s on blond girl’s named Becky, I’ve been seeing ads for Aaron Sorkin’s Master Class on Scriptwriting everywhere. Obviously the internet knows me better than I do so I decided to watch it. This is my take away.

Aaron Sorkin is friggin’ adorable first of all. Kinda nerdy, kinda a badass, and very cool. Yes, he also knows some things about writing scripts.

What I liked about it was that it was really one successful screenwriters take on how they write. What works, what they look for, where they screw up, etc. It’s not a “this is the bottom line about screenwriting, all these rules must be followed” more like “this is what made me Aaron Sorkin”. So if you like play-like television scripted drama, this is your bang bus.

While watching I decided to take a few notes when something struck me as interesting or funny or both. Enjoy.


Advice from the Aaron Sorkin Master Class:


  • You have to have conflict. Just a story about a bunch of friends on a road trip isn’t going to get people invested. There has to be conflict. Someone has to be somewhere on a certain date, and everything goes against that happening. Conflict.
  • Press on it. Is the conflict strong enough. If 20 dollars or a phone call will fix the conflict, it’s not great enough. Never has it been said the obstacle is too great. They also don’t have to win. They just have to try.
  • Set up intentions. Have your character say “I want” or “I need”. This is an easy way to tell the audience what we’re in for.
  • Stories involve motion. If it’s not moving then you don’t need it.
  • Probable improbability is better than an improbable probability. The fact that ET will follow a trail of Recess Pieces is a probable improbability that the audience will entertain. The possibility that a detective on a job is the only person the FBI can call at that given moment to disarm a bomb is an improbable probability that is just ridiculous and the audience will question. There is a fix though… having the character call it out. “I’m the only person you can call right now?” is all you need. Just have the character validate the improbably probability and all will be forgiven.
  • Odd numbers and words with a K in them are funny.
  • Aaron Sorkin does not know how to pronounce modernity.
  • Aristotle is God and Poetica is his bible.
  • Clear intention and obstacle is the root of story.
  • Sorkin doesn’t visualize his scripts. He hears them. He writes as little description as possible. He relies on the Director to bring the visualization and the actor to bring the intention. His scripts are around 180 pages long therefor and still run 2 hours or less.
  • Paraphrasing here, but when things are shitty, you are just more honest. You just don’t have the energy to sugar coat life, or your writing. So struggle is important for a writer/artist. That bartending job is actually doing you good.
  • Why martin sheen smoked on the west wing as the president. (made him human)
  • Although he talks a lot on the Bush / Gore race, the comments he makes about a country divided make more sense now than ever, as if we are reliving a more vibrant moment in history.
  • Dialogue is music…the same rules apply. This reminds me of an Italian teacher that asked why Italian was generally so pleasing to the ear. The answer was in the word “melodia” (melody)… broken out it is “me lo dia” or “speak to me”.
  • No lifelike line of dialogue ever began or ended with the word damn’t.

There you have it folks. Definitely worth the watch, it’s fun, fast, and there is a ton of good take away. He also does a segment with 6 students who read the opening of their scripts and he does a little analysis on them. It’s worth watching a master find the good and the bad in young writers.

Thanks Aaron Sorkin. Thanks for the walk and talk. You’re the bomb.

Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in wordphotography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at where he can be contacted as well.

Do You Need Film School


Thanks for reading.

Ok, I’ll go a bit deeper.

I went to film school. It was fantastic. I would definitely say that going helped me become a better filmmaker/storyteller/human faster.

Did I need to go to be a filmmaker/storyteller/human? No. But that’s me… some people do need to go, they need the structure, they need to meet the right people. Some people definitely don’t need to go, they are already on their way to making film fantastically. Either way, Film School is definitely not going to hurt.

I studied Film Theory. They didn’t actually offer Production at my school which is a bit different than most academic entries into the wonderful world of going into debt, I mean, making films. I studies a lot of Plato, Eisenstein, watched a years worth of Buster Keaton, and even studied Pornography with Constance Penley. The idea here was to look at film from a psychological, and theoretical standpoint. Instead of learning how to make something look a certain way, we learned why something was a certain way.

I’m not going to say you needed a lot of marijuana to fully understand most of what was taught, but it was California…

Ok, so now I’m out of school, and never even saw a camera. How the hell was I going to make films?

Well, you just sorta do.

You get a camera and you start making films. You’ve heard this before. Like anything, your success depends a lot on you. Also like anything else, you need instruction despite what Robert Rodriguez or Tarantino might have you believe. Sure, you might be able to make a sound by just picking up an instrument, but you’re going to get to playing a song much faster if you have someone teaching you.

Enter the internet. That’s right, it’s much more than just a tool to watch porn.

The first thing I learned was how to edit. This made sense because if you make films, and you suck, which you do, no one will want to edit your film. You can find a cameraman, actors, even a lowly sound guy, but an editor? Good luck. I still have a love hate relationship with editing, even though it eventually became a very serious career for me before I had enough skill to call myself a director. Being an editor is also an advantage at any level of production, no matter what you want to do. It’s like being a composer that plays another instrument. You just get the big picture.

How did I learn?

Before and other sites whose sole goal was to replace conventional film school, creative cow was the place to get free instruction. You could, and still can, learn absolutely ANYTHING. Final cut? Check. After Effects? Check. Da Vinci? Check. The name Aharon Rabinowitz taught me more than any professor in college, and for absolutely free. Indebted is not the word.

I have a nostalgia for these tutorials from time to time. They were funny, with cheesy jokes, easy to follow, and were at a time when filmmaking was still so new, and the idea of not having to work at a bar, or hotel, or retail was still so far off.

The way this learning worked was actually quite genius. Say you wanted to make something “glow” in post. You would search for it, and maybe find a tutorial on how to make a light saber effect. Not exactly what you wanted to do, but once you learned the skill you could apply it any creative way you wanted to. If you were in a classroom, the teacher may show you a different “more correct” way to get the result of what you wanted, but this way, you were using tools that perhaps weren’t designed for what you were wanting to do, in a novel way. That created originality. It also allowed you to do anything you want and not feel like you were doing it “wrong”.

There are a dozen ways to skin a cat, and about 30 ways to roto an object out of a frame.

So for me, I feel like film school was a great addition to my career. I feel that if I went to a production school, I may have entered my chosen profession earlier, but, would have had way less of a unique voice. I think by studying the philosophy of cinema first, then teaching myself the technical aspect of filmmaking, my craft is just that, craft. Self made. My own. I would imagine if I went to USC perhaps I would have been on a set at 21, and being told to make film a certain way, having my style be given to me more than formed. Mind you there is nothing wrong with that, I just think personally feeling that I don’t have a cinematic voice and trying to find it years after forming my craft would be way harder than working at the front desk of a hotel for a handful of years before teaching myself enough to call myself a filmmaker and be hired to do just that.

So, do you need film school? No. Is it useful? Yes. Most useful is your drive to learn, which if you have a strong one, the sky is truly the limit.

The Most Eye Opening Trip.

When I was 37 I went to Cambodia. It was the first time I ever went to South-East Asia which is odd because it would have been my favorite place likely in my 20’s, much like the rest of the male affluent white world. Loads of sex, cheep beer, and endless adventure is hard to pass up, but I did, probably because deep down I knew that if I did go there I would never come back, due to the fact that I probably would die there due to some circumstance directly under my control.

For whatever divine reason I dodged that death sentence and ended up in Phnom Penh on a film shoot with a guy I had worked with a handful of times named Sami Joensuu.

Sami was a super nice, super cool guy from Finland via Sweden. He had fun tattoos, a skater attitude, and a great smile. He was a pleasure to travel with, was funny, adventurous, and we would have made one hell of a travel show. We weren’t there for a show, we were there to film a documentary about a small village called Anlung Leak, which is not on any map, and about two hours due west in the backcountry from Phnom Penh.  A humanitarian, Christian organization named FIDA wanted to document the benefit their assistance did on the town. We were to focus on one woman, a mother, and wife, named Ana Ong.


Ana lost her youngest daughter to Dengue fever, a completely treatable and curable disease even without medication. She lost her because the way her village had treated this sickness for the last millennia was to put the affected out in the sun, and let them sweat it out. Most died including her daughter. Then FIDA came and taught them what we of the first world would consider some very basic education; that there are these things called germs, untreated water needs to be boiled before drank, and washing your hands can stop you from being sick most of the times. They also taught her that she killed her daughter.

Not directly of course, but the understanding was that she did not need to die. The understanding was that if he mother just had this knowledge a little earlier, she would still have her daughter. It was a singular experience, that I will never have again, to witness, for the first time, another person, for the first time, be illuminated in such a profound way.

Of course that was life in the village. Here in the states I imagine there would be all sorts of ceremony, therapy, years of medication, self-doubt, and a life dedicated to “what ifs”. For Ana Ong it was part of a larger cycle, no doubt horribly difficult, but was a life that did not afford the luxury of pity.

We talked to her in a little wood shack that her husband built with his hands, axe, and rope. She showed us her most treasured items: two poorly photoshopped photos of her parents that were a tradition in Cambodia. A generic red sports car behind the man, and a disproportionate commercial center behind the woman, framing them in their dreams and aspirations.


On a derelict but well-kept wood chiffonier was an old 13 inch CRT tv. I asked what her favorite show was and she didn’t understand the question. She went over to the TV with a big proud smile and turned it on. White snow illuminated the dim shack. The TV was hooked up to a car battery and they would turn it at night to use as a lamp. They had never experienced it for it’s intended use. During the day the kids would ride a stationary bike attached to a generator to recharge the car battery.  This was a town that had no running water or electricity, no cell phones, no current knowledge of the outside world, not even the basic knowledge that washing your hands could save your life.


Yet, here humanity thrived. Outside the children laughed and played like any child does around the entire world. A rich kid with a Xbox, or these kids that invented a game played with discarded rubber bands, had the same laugh, the same desire to win, the same need to be accepted. They were just as happy, and that, to me, was a tremendous discovery. It made me closer to humanity, made me realize that what was important was human not object, and made me feel that we do start pure, that the world as a whole does have a chance. You can read a thousand books, see as many documentaries as you like, I doubt you will be able to see it any clearly then a gaggle of kids giggling over a game they invented with garbage.

The village was fascinated with us. We were big and different and we came with these cameras and microphones that didn’t look like anything the had seen before. The kids loved to see their picture taken, one of Ana Ong’s daughters even posed like a model, hand on an extended hip, chin down and eyes up at the camera, without being asked, almost, instinctual.


“She wants to be an tour guid” said her mother, “that would make me very proud.” That however would not be the fate for the young daughter who has never left the village; at 12 she would go to the factory and begin to make t-shirts, or assemble electronics, like her older sister did. “School is very expensive, and hardly anyone has money to go to college.” I asked her how much it would cost to send her to school. “Well, from elementary, through high school, and then college, with all the supplies, it’s nearly 15,000 Bhat.”

That’s almost 400.00 USD. Almost.

We carried on filming, at one point even brought my little DJI drone out to get some aerial shots. I’ve never blown so many minds at one time before. The kids went absolutely nuts, and some of the older villagers ran into their houses, unsure and unwilling to participate in whatever the hell this loud, flying, flashing, buzzing white thing was. The drone to me represented perfectly the modern world, and to see it in this gentle, primitive setting was quite extraordinary. We flew over the rice fields, through the village, and down dirt roads, documenting an ancient place with the newest technology. I imagined this is how explorers felt when they came to lands filled with indigenous people. For me it was inspiring, to share the possibility of the future with the youth, but I could easily see how this power could be manipulated for other purposes quite easily.

And here is the film I made, just of the drone footage. It’s stunning to see the country this way, and must have been for many people; it’s won numerous awards around the world, and what’s more, I’ve had people actually leave comments thanking me for showing them their beautiful country. The pleasure was truly all mine.

We shot for about 10 days, and became very close with the people of Anlung Leak, and the children who welcomed us each day as if we were some sort of show for them. The last evening we shared a humble meal with Ana Ong and her family, she insisted in cooking for us. Lovely young rice and fresh eggs with golden yolks, fried as an omelette with garlic. Fish sauce and tapioca. It was simple and beautiful, and was probably more food then she eats in a week.

After dinner she took a large towel off an old cast iron ice shaving machine. It was French made, and was left over from a people who colonized her land that she never met over a century ago. She took a precious block of ice, rare and precious, and placed it gently under the mechanism. Children jumped for joy as she cranked the machine by hand; a giant iron blade scraping a symphony for them to dance to. The shavings were gathered, placed in a bowl with tapioca beads and some tapioca vermicelli, dried fruit, and condensed milk. She offered this treat to us first, before making any others and waited. It was delicious. Everything about it, delicious.

While we packed up, and the kids collectively helped clear the feast, Sami and I snuck into the little dark shack. Under her rag stuffed pillow we placed 400 dollars tied together with strand ripped from my red bandana. We piled into our car, placed our hands together and bowed a hundred times, and made our way back to the modern world of Phnom Penh. In the wake of dust behind us we left the hope that maybe one little girl might experience a larger world, and maybe bring the good things of that larger world back to her home town. Maybe.

Here is the full documentary we produced:

And if you like, hop over to my Flickr album … so many beautiful images.



Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in wordphotography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at where he can be contacted as well.


FS700 + Odyssey = Face Melting

I get asked often, “what camera should I buy” … a lot of people would say “well, it depends what you want to do with it” which is about as helpful as a box of matches on the moon. I say one thing…

The FS700 and Odyssey 7Q+. Nuff said.

Its been about three years now that I’ve owned a FS700r and an Odyssey 7Q+. Three years is a long time for camera tech, and three years is even longer for your first praise post about it. Three years is actually the reason why I’m so damn smitten with this setup, because it’s still melting faces everywhere I take her.

Here is the deal, the FS700 is a prosumer camera from Sony that can shoot 240fps at HD for around $4,000 bucks. Thats pretty good. Now, add an Odyssey 7q+ which can record a RAW SDI signal out of the camera and ass kicking 4K and 120fps for another $2,000 bucks and what you have is basically the BFG 9000 of cameras.

I use this beast constantly. It’s small and light, it’s got more inputs then your mom, and more connections then Kevin Bacon, and wont even come close to the amount you owe for the college education you will hardly ever use. It’s an asset in any production, for interview footage to music videos and of course it’s slow motion abilities make it a very sexy devil.

Sometimes I just take it down the block with me… cause I can:

So yeah. You want a camera? You want a setup that’s gonna do any heavy lifting you throw at it, and leave you some coin to pay rent with? Then this is your dream team.


Roberto Serrini is a professional traveler who records his adventures in wordphotography and film. He is a staff writer for Get Lost Magazine, a senior contributor to Trip Advisor, as well as a commercial film director and drone pilot. His work can be seen at where he can be contacted as well.