Lotsa people think LA and think beach but one of my absolutely favorite places to explore is the downtown Arts District. Consider it one stop shopping for all your hipster pleasures. From dope breweries, to couture clothing, to black as night soft serve, you can pretty much fill a fantastic day walking around this conglomerate of cool.
A few of our faves are the Pali Wine Co. where you can get your grape on in an unpretentious, sexy Scandinavian vibe. Cheap flights and a fun staff awaits: paliwineco.com
The best dogs are at Wurstkuche which is just fun to say. Crazy flavors and a riotous back room will leave your belly full and your voice lost: wurstkuche.com
Desert will bring you to the LA institution Pie Hole, again, offering anything out of the ordinary for discerning pie aficionados. thepieholela.com
By now you need to ease into the afternoon with a cold brew, so why not have 8 of them. Angel City is one of our absolute favorite in LA and their flights are legendary. angelcitybrewery.com
Ok so now you are sh!#@faced which is the appropriate time to eat black charcoal soft serve at Bae. Much more than an instagram darling, this soft serve is delicious as it’s activated charcoal soaks up all that liquid regret in your tummy: BAE
Finally finish out your banner day with a little retail therapy to perhaps buy that one-of-a-kind gift for that friend you just ghosted their brunch on. A unique store that is like an authentic Urban Outfitters, if Urban Outfitters sold real stuff. poketo.com
That’s the size of it folks, definitely head down to downtown to get some real LA living.
Welcome to LA! We can’t think of a better city to start with then the City of Angels where we’re gonna eat, drink, and cruise through everything weird, wild, and wonderful this sprawling city has to offer.
In the first of our 24 film series (thats not a typo… we did 24 films on LA … there’s a lot to love) we’re gonna start with the basics, Hollywood Blvd and the surrounding area, where we hit some tourist classics like Grauman’s Chinese and the Kodak (shopping mall) Theater, but also discover old Hollywood at the Roosevelt Hotel and Magic Castle. We also visit one of the strangest museums we’ve ever been to, the Museum of Failure, which is actually worth the trip to this incredibly touristy area.
So tune in and sit back and let us brave the poorly costumed street performers and cholesterol ladened street dogs for you. Links below to the sites, please comment and subscribe, and welcome to LA!
I have an insane job. In the same week I could be traveling between two hemispheres, from arctic to rainforest, covering a swank ski palace on a mountain one day, then down to a macaw research center in a jungle the next. Ok, it’s not really a job, it’s a passion, and I would happily die for it, and most people hate me because my Instagram looks like a Pinterest board. That said the one question that gets asked more then any other is not what’s the best thing you’ve seen, done, or eaten, but, how the hell do you pack.
It is actually a great question, and one I don’t think has a clear answer. No where in school or on the job did anyone go over what to do when you realize you need something you dont have, and how to apologize in a foreign language for yelling a barrage explicative at the ceiling for apparently no reason. So after years of being my own guinea pig, I have a few tips for anyone that wants to travel like a travel writer.
1. Be nice.
I start with this as it is the most important tool in your arsenal. Niceness will always get you the most out of any situation, period. Flight oversold and you’re stuck? Don’t yell at the poor human that is trying to make minimum wage to live their life, be nice. They’ll help you out if they can. Someone purposefully trying to be a dick to you because they don’t like your accent/shoes/man-bun? Be nice, because it’s an oportunity to open their world to a new perspective, or at the very least you’re less likely to get shived if that was their plan. Just be nice.
2. One of each, and double up.
What the hell does that mean Dr. Seuss? Well it means be economical with what you take, but take enough to cover any basis. For clothing look at it like this; take something casual and also something you can dress up in. You need to be comfortable but you don’t want to feel out-of-place if a fancy occasion arises. If you can, find something that is both comfortable and can be dressed up, like a pair of nightclub sweatpants, or a schizophrenic jacket. You want to bring a Swiss Army knife, not your grandmothers entire place setting.
3. Get good gear.
If you like to make things to make things while you travel like me, you know that having the right gear is key. Too much and you’ll weigh yourself down, too little and you’ll be cursing yourself for not bringing “that lens”. While technology changes constantly, I have a pretty solid set of tools I like to bring with me on any job. I made a film for you about it above, enjoy.
4. Carelessly Plan.
Again with the riddles. What I mean here is that as a journalist I have to be somewhat organized. Even when I’m not reporting on something I still do the same amount of planning. I usually open a Google Doc and put any information I might need in it like hotels, confirmations, phone numbers, anything in any order. I just keep a running list, and if I need something I hit Command + F and search for it. If I’m feeling really like my father (love you pop) then I’ll even open Google Maps and plug-in a few locations. You can easily save them to a personal map, and even put notes in each location. If you’re exploring the city and you get hungry, you can pop open the map and see whats near you, this way you don’t have to go hungry while you research on the road.
5. Get Lost.
It’s probably by some divine inside joke that I’ve been travel writing for the last 15 years for a magazine called Get Lost. Getting lost somewhere is by far my favorite thing to do, so much so, that it’s a bit of a philosophy for me. Backstory: my parents met at 666 5th Ave at the Alitalia offices and I was born into an airline family, flying well before I was driving. Back then there was no cell phones, and when you went to a foreign country the only tools you had were the ones you brought with you. You were lucky if you had an out of date GlobeTrekker guide-book, and it became something of a game to try to survive a foreign city. Discovering where to sleep, eat, how to communicate, and what was beautiful was done with only the skills within you, and this love for discovery and problem solving became a foundation of my character. While I think it’s fantastic we have these tools in our pocket now that can translate for us, tell us where the best croissants are, and find us the cheapest hotel, we lose the gift of discovery, and with it, lessen the reward of connecting with a foreign culture; if the game is too easy, how interesting can it be really. So my advice is put the phone away and just let your curiosity lead the way, it will never steer you wrong.
Those are the quick five to get you traveling like a travel writer. Secret #6 is just go, because really that’s all that matters.
I’ve had a few people throw some questions my way so I thought I’d answer specifics… if you have anything you want to ask, drop it in the comments.
Q: Do you ever have any trouble with the TSA.
A: Depends. There is no rhyme or reason when they will stop and search a bag of mine, despite literally packing it the same way for a decade. I do have TSA pre and Global Entry which helps a ton, but overall rule number one of “Be Nice” seems to be the only real salvation in a TSA situation.
Q: What phone carrier do you use? Is it not really expensive traveling as much as you do?
A: Google Fi. Before Google Fi I had ATT for my iPhone, and yeah, it sucked. I did buy a cheep Samsung that I could pop a local SIM card in, but that was a pain too. Google Fi changed all that as I can literally go anywhere in the world and my phone works for the same data rate. It’s a game changer.
Q: Are there any specific clothing brands you like?
A: Socks I like Stance. Prana also makes great travel gear that looks swank, great jeans and pants and shirts that don’t wrinkle. Duluth makes great tactical underwear. Yes tactical underwear.
Q: Do you know any travel hacks?
A: Hmm… well one thing I do is always keep an old hotel key with me in my go bag. Reason being is that most modern hotels these days require you put a key in to get the outlets to work, and if you’re charging batteries, then you best leave a key in while youre out.
Last summer, a friend of mine and I won a contest from WOW air to travel the world and make films for them. Half a year later they abruptly cancelled all service. Coincidence?
Dear God I hope so. One thing I can say having worked closely with them is that WOW certainly did things differently, for better or worse. There were aspects of their corporate culture that were mind-blowing in how relaxed, open-minded, and forward thinking they were. They had all the flexibility and energy of a kid right out of college, and were a company that acted on passion and creativity, which is exactly what this contest embodied to me.
The question I get the most from colleagues is “why the hell would I want to win such a contest? You’re an established commercial director, and you are basically making content for a brand for free”. They have a point; this type of contest was perhaps geared toward a much younger, novice filmmaker/traveler, but fortunately for me I have a standing mentality of a 25-year-old, which comes from a serious amount of meditation and training (e.g. I still drink Car Bombs on dates). I have always been electrified by travel, with the same level of excitement as a 16-year-old Robby going to backpack through Europe for the first time, however, what I had now is the experience and skill ofprofessional working in advertising, which was really driving my curiosity to see how this project would work.
Brands going directly to content creators is a trend that is seriously disrupting the advertising industry, and this contest was. This type of “direct to source” work is as interesting to me as it is frightening. As a content creator it’s liberating; to be able to take a vision without compromise to completion, without the sometimes sluggish weight of an agency weighing you down. At the same time the structure and machine that is an agency or creative production company is an extremely important resource in creating top quality content, as is the support you get in bringing an idea to life. Either way this trend wasn’t diminishing any time soon, so I was eager to see exactly what it could produce.
It was clear to me from the beginning that the real prize of this contest was being able to create a large body of work for a global brand without compromise. WOW gave us full autonomy, to a concerning point even. They gave us the login information to their Instagram, YouTube, and Website, and told us to post images and videos when we wanted, without review. No review? It’s like I had died and went to editor heaven, which scared the bejeezus out of me a bit. Regardless it was clear that we could make this project anything we wanted it to be, so we decided to push it right to the limit.
As a travel writer I am acutely aware of how the internet has created this echo chamber for travel experiences. As soon as something “hot” hits the scene, there are thousands of articles and videos about it, creating an unnatural surge to that destination, be it a city, restaurant or even dish on a menu (I’m looking at you Burger at the Brindle Room). This is the dark side of travel journalism, a power so great that it can destroy the very thing you wish to share with the world. So, in a conscious effort to bring something novel but equally amazing to our audience, we wanted to focus on experiences that were more enigmatic and authentic. To do so, we reached out to locals through WOW’s extensive social media network which proved to be our golden ticket.
Being able to be in direct communication with our actual audience is a dream any marketer or creative wishes to never wake from. We were able to ask actual locals where they go, eat, and see, places and experiences that you won’t find (yet) written up about on giant opinion generators like Yelp or TripAdvisor. This was the real deal, and would allow us to create a library of unique quality content so prolific that it could be the answer to any travelers query, covering must sees, must eats, must drinks, oddities and tips and not be just an echo of what was already out there.
HOW WE WON A “DREAM JOB”.
Last June, while doing research for a travel show that partner Brad Stuart and I were producing in NYC, we came across this contest from WOW Air. The prize was an apartment in Reykjavik for the summer, 140 USD per diem, and hotel accommodations in the 8 cities they would fly us to making travel films for them. I had just bought the new Sony A7rIII and wanted to field test it for the show we were working on, so we entered. 30k other people did as well. We ended up winning with this film:
To say we were surprised is an under-statement. There were so many fantastic entries, from so many fantastic hosts, many of which with Instagram and YouTube followings well beyond ours. We were so shocked that when we got the call from WOW the first question we asked was why they chose us. They said they were not looking for a large social media following, but rather for a team that had a real passion for travel with the ability to produce high quality content. Flattery will get you everywhere WOW.
While we were extremely grateful, we still had to give it a good think if we should accept; it would mean leaving our lives for three months, not being able to work on paid projects, and would leave our NYC apartments vacant while still having to pay rent. Boo hoo I know, but realistically the per diem they offered would only cover basic costs on the road, not living expenses or rent back home, so. if we were going to commit, we really had to do something special with the opportunity that would be valuable to us.
We decided we would need to produce a large catalogue of quality content that would explore places and experiences that were different from all the other travel films out there. The style and personality of this films would be unique as well; a mixture of comedy and reverence, grit and polish to keep viewers surprised and tapped in. These films would be intimate, authentic, and most importantly fun, and collectively would become a well branded showcase to model future work from.
We accepted the prize knowing that this was going to push the limits of what we had produced before, but with the electric excitement of being fueled by doing something you truly love.
SO … NOW WE LIVE IN REYKJAVIK I GUESS?
Just a week later Brad and I were living in Reykjavik, which was incredibly exciting. Packing was an interesting endeavor; squeezing items to live somewhere for 3 months and produce an entire summer campaign into two bags and a personal item really pushed my limits of economy packing. It was such a learning lesson I ended up making a short film for the travel mag I write for that goes over my absolute basics needed to get the job done:
The apartment we were given was a modern, minimalist AirBnB in the “God’s Quarter” right down the street from the outstanding Hallgrimskirkja Church. They furnished the fridge with WOW beer (do I trust an airline that makes beer? Yes, I guess I do) and something called “Hardfisker” which is fish jerky and is as disgusting as it sounds (but somehow better with butter, obviously).
Reykjavik is a fantastic city. Great food, beautiful bay, dynamic culture. Iceland as a whole is a marvelous gem, unique in the world. The locals are a bit over the tourist invasion with good reason, and can be a bit cold at first, but like any culture, with enough smiles (and buying of libations) they would shed their protective husk to reveal their true, friendly character. While we loved going to the public pools, and eating a Hlöllabátar after a night dancing at Pablo Discobar (great name), we really didn’t have much time to explore our new home as the travel itinerary was aggressive to say the least.
Our main objective was to not be an echo of what was already out there; we wanted to highlight lesser known experiences that defined a city, that actual locals enjoyed. The travel writer in me has a love-hate relationship with the craft; I want to inspire people to travel, but I don’t want to kill the very thing that does the inspiring, which a flood of tourist can easily do.
So we would research the usual suspects like Thrillist, Time Out, Conde Nast, Trip Advisor, even Atlas Obscura for the must-see attractions, but most of our focus came through WOW’s far-reaching social media platform, asking locals what their favorite places were. This got us directly in touch with our audience, giving us unique and really fresh results that hopefully separated our content from the cacophony of ordinary that was already out there.
One asset working with WOW was having a global brand to produce from. There is something very empowering to travel with purpose, meaning, experiencing a foreign culture because it is your job. Being able to call a restaurant, museum or night club and tell them that you’d like to do a travel segment on them for WOW airlines gives you greater access, allowing you to go much deeper into the experience than if we were just a tourists. Experiences like getting the VP of Media Relations to give you a private tour of the Getty Center, learning pole dancing from a world champion, or filming a Michelin Star restaurant that has a staunch no media policy, was much easier with WOW opening the door, and Brad’s confident producing skills. We would end up making hundreds of fantastic connections, and be able to talk with the minds behind the life-changing experiences that make travel magic.
Once we had our list of targets, ranging from food, to nightlife, to cultural experiences, we would plug them into a Google map like this, labelling each one in their respective category. Terribly boring I know, but this way we could see where in the city everything was, and logistically figure out how to do as much as possible in one day. I really have become my father.
RUN AND GUN WITH PURPOSE
A.B.C. Always Be Capturing …
Coming from a documentary and editorial background, I relied on his type of high energy shooting and logging to guarantee we could produce all the films we set out to. The more cities we accomplished the more streamlined our process and gear became, and ultimately the less footage we would need to capture. To give you an idea, for Boston, our first city, we captured around 350 GB of material. Our last city, Stockholm, we topped out at 160 GB. It was like being on that show “The Biggest Loser” but instead of lbs it was kbs (I really have become my father even in humor, it’s official).
Each night we would dump and back up the media, and bring it into Premiere. The camera created proxies on the fly so we could easily deliver in glorious 4k while editing on a Macbook Pro. We would then write scripts for each episode, and record them into a pillow fort/sound booth on our Reykjavik kitchen table. I would mainly be cutting any waking hour we weren’t traveling, and Brad was in charge of producing, and distributing content on-line. We had fever dreams, never knew if it was day or night (mainly because the sun doesn’t set in Iceland in the summer), and forgot where we lived many times, but really could not have been happier.
10 cities, 3,149 photos, 2.5 TB of data, 1 tattoo, and 38,675 miles later we really couldn’t be prouder of the work we completed over the summer. We successfully produced over 100 full films for WOW Air in just over 3 months. If you’re doing the math that’s around 3 films a day. Some will say #shopped but the proof lives on the website travelguide.wowair.com – and we will be launching our own YouTube channel TravelClast this year with these films and many more.
For two people who love to suck the marrow out of the world of travel, I don’t think we left a morsel on the bone to pick. It saddens up deeply to see WOW air be gone in a flash, and really cannot believe that the “happy Icelandic low-fare airline” is no longer around to shuttle bargain savvy travelers to destinations usually unobtainable at such low costs. To us they were a visionary company that for better or worse moved boldly toward novel innovation without hesitation or remorse. They were spirited, and every employee we had the opportunity to work with lived with this passionate credo, which was truly refreshing to be part of. We’re just so thankful to have had the opportunity, and hope the work lives on like personal memories that can be enjoyed by anyone with a desire and passion for travel.
Ok it’s not that exciting, but it is a hellovalotta fun.
So my friend about two months ago said “clear the night of the 25th. We’re going for secret sushi.” I did, I forgot about, a chime dinged on my phone about two months later and it said “secret sushi” and I had no idea what to expect.
Rolling down on a frost filled evening, cold like the city smoked a menthol, we all congregated in the exquisitely pedestrian lobby of the Hotel 32/32, which if you’ve never heard of, don’t worry, no one else has either. I’m convinced it was named for professional alcoholics as the name is also its address, very convinient.
At some point a woman came up to our party of 4 and said we could go up now to the hotel room. Somewhere, seemingly randomly on the 10th floor we ponied up to a hotel room door. We turned the knob. We entered. We were greeted to this:
My first impression was “Oh, this is something Stephan from SNL would mention. But you know, real.” because here I was, in a sushi restaurant, in a small NYC hotel room. I’m sure you have already read the stories, but honey, trust, you honestly don’t get the full effect till you see it for yourself.
We were seated on a small chaise and given the option between two drinks. They were beautifully crafted and delicious, and the wait staff (of one) was extremely attentive (we were the only customers). When the Itame (sushi chef, I’ll stop now) was ready for us, we saddled up (lots of cowboy references in this post, sorry, last one) to the makeshift sushi bar up against the corner of the room.
It was a very, very, intimate setting.
“Hey folks my name David, I’m a Jewish kid from Long Island, and also your sushi chef!” Perhaps it didn’t come out that succinctly, but that was the quick gist we got within minutes, which I mention because Chef David is really the main course of this dining experience.
It is not strange to me to have a non-Japanese Itame; anyone can learn any trade regardless of race or religion or taste in sports teams, and that is what makes the world great. What I’ve never experienced was such a boisterous, talkative, interactive, salty, wise-cracking, are-you-cooking-for-us-or-eating-with-us, dining experience ever in my life, and this includes eating at home with my Italian mother who talks like a shark swims (i.e. constantly, I give up.) Chef David is an entertainer as much as he is a master sushi chef, and make no mistake, his sushi is spot on. I’ve had the stuff all over the world, from the very finest to the side-liners, and it’s up there at the top. It’s David that adds a special flavor to the meal, one that is very distinct, and perhaps not for everyone, but certainly unique.
The 17 pieces of sushi are prepared in front of you with a constant stream of conversation over the next half hour. David explains not only what your eating, the type of cut, why he likes it, but also where he’s from, how his father used to walk funny, how expensive his knifes are, and what he thinks about Long Island. I should point out that he also mentioned that he’s good at reading the room, “I know when people want to sit in silence and just want to eat, but if I feel like you want convo, I’m more than happy to open up to you.” which I do believe. Chef David is creating an experience that is beyond any other dining experience out there. You simply can’t replicate this, not only just the weirdness of eating in a random hotel room, but also him. He is the main course.
After our carousel of tastes from the sea were concluded, I was able to jump behind the bar with him for a few pics together, which he was more than happy to take. I’ve read a lot about him, his personality, and the trouble he’s gotten in to, but, to me, he just seemed like a guy who is really passionate about creating an experience, and sharing his knowledge in a specific food culture that is very strict and reserved. To that I say good luck my new friend, and if you do get an invite to join him for secret sushi, it’s definitely not to be passed up. How do you go? Good question … but I hear he’s opening one in Miami in Versace’s Mansion, so Floridians prepare.
It’s time to become YouTube famous. I feel like I’m the last person on Earth who isn’t.
How do you become YouTube famous? Well, there are A LOT of ways people suggest to do it, so I went through the top 20 most popular articles and combined them ALL in one place, like a cheat sheet, mainly because there are A LOT of steps, and I’m lazy.
So here we go, the ultimate guide to becoming YouTube famous (in 13 steps).
Subscribe Watermark: Instead of uploading a watermark of your logo, upload a subscribe icon as your watermark so it’s on the screen, discreetly, all the time. Located in Creator Studio > Channel > Branding
Check your stats: Each week check your video stats to see where viewers are leaving your videos. Add a YouTube card at that time code inviting viewers to watch different content on your channel to help retain viewers.
Branding: Brand your content and channel consistently. Use branded thumbnails. Here are some tools to help you.
Add featured channels: parter with other YouTube Content creators. Click Modules > Other channels > Save changes – Then add a few like-minded channels and save.
Keep “related channels” on: this will keep you in the YouTube recommended network of channels.
Link your website: go to Creator Studio, then hit the channel settings link to add your blog or website URL, and hit link your associated website.
Interact: Ask questions for your audience, like other videos, leave comments.
Sub Confirmation: when linking to your YouTube Channel add “?sub_confirmation=1” to the end of your URL. This will prompt the viewer to subscribe immediately upon clicking the link.
Consistency: Post once a week, Thursday, at 2pm, for a year, at a time when your demographic of viewers typically consume your type of video (check other similar channels to see when this is) – check your analytics monthly, and adjust your release time to 3 hours before your peak time.
I’m not going to mention you have to make good content, or how to make good content, or any of that business because that’s like telling someone in order to learn how to swim you have to get wet.
Look, when you’ve jogged through as many bits as I have you can call yourself whatever the hell you want. You’re the one here reading this, so I’m assuming you want to know how to become a master editor. So I’m going to tell you. It all begins with lying.
I started out as a photographer, and even went to Brooks institute (no it’s not for the mentally insane…) before I realized I was crazy to think (call back) that I could make a living being a photographer. It was then I discovered Film, which really rang my bell, because I’m the kinda person that loves to try a bit of everything, and film, to me, seemed like it had every other type of creative art contained within it; fashion, writing, acting, photography, construction … you name it, its in there, how could you ever get bored.
My biggest fear in life is being bored. That and quicksand.
So I studied film (I promise to get to the editing soon) at UC Santa Barbara … but lucky for me they only taught “Film Theory” so I spent 3 years reading Bazin, Eisenstein, and Plato and never touched a camera. I graduated, and was completely unhireable. Cool.
So. The first thing you learn as a budding filmmaker is that no one, and I mean no one, will want to edit your film. So, to counteract that I taught myself, against my will, how to edit. I downloaded a cracked (stolen) copy of Pinnacle Systems editing software, and got to it.
About 5 years later, I was a pretty decent editor, despite really hating editing. It’s long, boring, tedious, unthankful work that doesn’t make you popular at bars. I was however killing it on the timed contest scene. Timed contests were my salvation out of college. I entered them with a frenzied passion, and found that I had a skill for producing good content quickly. (I attribute this to studying Pornography as my genre study at UCSB with professor Constance Penley … if you want to know how to efficiently run a set, study porn. Trust.)
At this point I was really fed up working in hotels and needed to get into the industry somehow. I moved to NYC and applied for any job I could related to filmmaking. One response I got was from editor Dave Herman. I went in for an interview.
“I’m shooting a movie,” he said, “and you seem to have a lot of experience making shorts. If you help me with my film, I’ll hire you as an assistant. Do you know how to run an Avid?”
“Of course.” I said. What the fuck was an Avid I said in my head to myself.
“Cool. Start Monday.”
We shook hands, and I went to the bathroom, then found a storeroom and hid in it until everyone was gone. That night I started up “the Avid” and figured out what the hell it was. I’m not going to pretend I pulled a Neo from The Matrix and figured it out right away, but somehow I squeaked through at V2.
Dave eventually left to go to Jump, which I called home for a few years, before leaving to go work at The Lab with two amazing creatives Johnson + Wolverton. There we worked on award-winning work like Lincoln, Jaguar and Comedy Central, and I met the most influential person in my professional career, Neil Gust.
Neil was a very cool guy, sweet, tall, looked a little like Moby and was insanely talented. He was a musician, and it showed in his edit. In fact, I wouldn’t even call him an editor (although he’s won every award known to man) he was really a musician with image. Before Neil I never saw editing as exciting, passionate, sexy or emotive. It was construction work, but now, it was balletic. What is really impressive to me is that Neil didn’t pull a “you’re the man now, dog” moment or anything like that. He didn’t even know he was teaching me. Being his assistant, learning how he edited and me having to fit into that model taught me everything I really needed to know. Once I was shown what it was to really edit something, how editing was its own art, perhaps the most powerful tool in filmmaking, I was hooked.
Me under the influence of Gust way back when…
It’s amazing to me to look back and think that I never even knew this gift was out there, and even be editing and not realize it’s potential. Besides learning an important skill that I would base my career as a director on, I learned something even more valuable; the people you work with have the power to change your life. I never walk on set (or into the butcher or library or airport) and disregard the power of introduction. You never know who you are going to meet, what you have to learn from them, or how they are going to change your life. This is very important.
On the team of J+W … won a few awards for this one.
So, how do you become a master editor? You edit. You edit, then you do what you have work with people. You keep working with people until someone resonates with you. You steal their genius and make it your own. Then you edit some more. That’s how you do it.
I know I’m a master editor because there is no job I ever work on that I feel bored, or overwhelmed on. I can cut something six ways from Sunday without pause. I can have clients give scalding comments, nod intuitively, and start from scratch without even a moment of resentment. When you feel like your work is a game, a puzzle to perfect, that you can solve in an infinite amount of ways but only one is right, then it’s not a job, then it’s a skill, and more importantly, a pleasure.
A little more recently…
So why am I a director you’re asking? Because that was always the goal. I’m also too extroverted, empathetic and fun to keep at a desk all day. It might be different for you; I’ve always envied colorist that are at home in the soft light of their shrine-like studios gently nudging pixels different values throughout the day. Not me. I like the mix of all the art combining to make a new art, film, one art to rule them all. I will say this though; I am so thankful it was Editing that got me to this place in my life. Editing to me is the code in which story is told. It is the rhythm and recipe that makes the dish of film taste so good. I am a better director because I have editor eyes, editor ears and an editor’s mind. I’m constantly shuffling through possibilities, angles and jump cuts as I produce. If you edit, I think you rewire your brain a bit differently from other people, and for better or worse, see the code that filmmaking is made of all around you.
Yeah, it’s kinda like Neo. Don’t hate me, I just rewatched The Matrix a couple of days ago. Still holds up. Have you seen The Mosquito Coast though? Where has that film been…
(One of my favorite edits to date … also directed and shot this … also won way more festivals than I could have wished for. Thank you editing, I love you.)
I first tried infrared photography in High School on actual celluloid running through my Canon AE-1. The results were…lackluster. It was difficult to load, harder to meter, and almost impossible to develop.
Things have changed a lot.
I first came across infrared digital photography working with Shawn Angelski who’s amazing images had me hooked instantly. Shawn had converted his Canon 5DII to be a dedicated infrared camera, and while that yields amazing results, I wasn’t going to retire my main shooting camera for a new hobby.
Enter the old Sony RX100.
I had this little point and shoot laying on my desk collecting dust for too long. I found this amazing company online, LifePixel, who can convert lots of different cameras to infrared. What’s great is you can choose what nanometer wavelength of infrared you want to shoot, basically, the type of infrared you want to capture. There is more about that on their site, but I chose the Super Color option cause I wanted to get funky.
And boy is it funky.
Here are a few things I’ve learned that might help you get best results:
You have to use a special white balance to get proper results. The white balance should be programed into the camera by the company that augments your camera.
Bright light, daylight, and plant matter works best for getting a full spectrum of color.
post processing is necessary for getting amazing results.
Using a CF or polarizing filter helps get tack sharp images.
Don’t be afraid to shoot video, it will blow your mind.
1 … white balance. It’s good to understand what is going on under the hood here. Basically when you convert your camera you are placing a filter over sensor to just allow a specific infrared wavelength of light to pass through. As Infrared is outside of visible light, your white balance is no longer valid, and has to be cranked way toward blue to get you something that represents different channels of color.
2 … bright light don’t fright. What really makes infrared pop is lots of photons of light. intense contrast, especially when shooting anything plant matter, will give you images that look otherworldly. This is because of the way chemicals in plants (chloroform mainly) reflects infrared light, and the sky doesn’t. This is also cool because now you can start to see how insects and birds see the world.
3 … post malone. Your pictures are going to look like you spilled kool-aide on them. This is normal. Its infraRED after all. To get the results you want you will need to process them in post. Basically in the channel mixer, set the output channel to red, and change red to 0 and blue to 100. Then change the output channel to blue, and put red to 95 and blue to -3. And when you’re saying “what the hell does this mean” hop over to Nicolesy Blog where there is a great step-by-step write up.
4 … CF or Pola filter. This is just good basic photography techniques.
5 … Video! Lots of people shoot stills… not a lot of people shoot IR video, and I don’t know why. You can process it the same, and it gives you a unique look you don’t see often online.
I’ve seen a few unique bars in my life … there is Harley’s Hard Rock in Yellowknife, the northern most strip club bar in the world. There is the Caverna Antica in Ischia which is in an old Roman wine grotto that you have to spelunker to. The one that might be the most mind blowing is simply atop the I’m Hotel in Manila, where a thousand jellyfish wait to drink with you.
I didn’t know that Jellyfish could be such a rewarding drinking buddy. Their, wandering, devil may come lax attitude makes sipping a cold Singapore Sling while watching their slow mo dance a lot like sharing a cold beer with the Dude. It’s pretty chill.
Turn around and you are afforded perhaps the best view of Manila that the city has to offer. 360 panorama’s that come alive as the sun sets and the city becomes electric.
Theres lots of great sitting areas, a cool lit wall, and even a pretty decent menu to get your nosh on. Down below the insane Makati streets are teeming with traffic, prostitutes, and hawker stalls, but up here, closer to heaven, it’s just you, your cold drink, and the Jellyfish ballet.
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.