The Nicest People in the World

Laboratory for Tree Ring Research U of AZ

Many years ago, when A Life’s Work was granted fiscal sponsorship by the New York Foundation for the Arts, I met with a NYFA advisor. She was a wonderful woman, a filmmaker, with positive energy emanating from every pore. She looked at the people I had lined up to work on the film and commended me on my choices. I told her a few of them had agreed to work for rates well below what they usually charged, below the friend rate, even. The advisor said, “It always amazes me. In the film business, you meet with the nicest people in the world, and the … not nicest people in the world.”

I interacted with both recently. And in a previous draft of this post I included the latter but I’ve cut it because there’s more than enough negativity going around. So here, the latest instance of dealing with the nicest people.

Laboratory for Tree Ring Research U of AZ
Matthew Salzer in front of a 1,407 year-old giant sequoia from California.

In January I went to Tucson, AZ, for a pick up shoot at the Laboratory for Tree Ring Research; they have a couple of crosscuts of the Prometheus tree there and I needed those shots for the film. I had been using a placeholder, a couple of stylized shots taken from a Nova episode I digitize from a VHS. When I reached out to license that footage, the company that owned it wanted an obscene amount for 10 seconds. So obscene that flying out to AZ, renting a car, buying meals and gas, all of it, would be significantly cheaper. And I’d get the footage I wanted.

Canon 5D on slider

I lined up the logistics of the shoot with Professor Matthew Salzer of the University of Arizona’s Laboratory for Tree Ring Research and needed only one thing. A camera. (My camera is obsolete.) I considered renting one and looked at prices, and they were reasonable, but being the poor, cheapskate that I am, I asked filmmaker, collaborator, and dear friend Wolfgang Held if he had a camera he didn’t need that week and would he consider renting it to me. He offered me his Canon 5D, two lenses, some other accessories, and a traveling bag. And he would not rent it, but he would lend it to me. I was  deeply moved by my friend’s generosity.

I paid him back with lunch and a thousand thank yous. But I like to think I paid him back in another way, too.  Enter my colleague at the education factory, Sam Richman.

When I was about 13 and developing an interest in photography, my father brought home a camera bag with an old Pentax 35mm and some lenses; apparently, “they had fallen off a truck.” Inspired by cinematographer Andy Bowley’s use of funky lenses, I brought them into work for possible use with our 7D. Sam and I played with them a bit, and then into the factory’s camera bag they went.

About a month later, Sam asked if he could borrow my 35mm lens (the one in the foreground) for a personal project.  I didn’t ask about the project or how long he’d need it, but said yes without hesitation. He borrowed it for a weekend and on Monday he showed me why he needed a slightly wide lens.

Here is the result: a video he made with his band for NPR’s Tiny Desk competition. Sam is on drums.

Sam paid me back with enchiladas. Later he told me he finds himself helping out his friends’ film projects just to help them out.

And so it goes. You’ve got to  keep the giving in circulation.

Do you have a favorite pay-it-forward story? How about sharing it in the comments below!

Big shout out to Matt, who made the shoot stress-free.

If you’d like to pay it forward by helping out A Life’s Work, you can do so by clicking the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute. All we need is $10,000 for color correcting and sound mixing and then the film will be ready to go into the world!  Pretty exciting, right?

Click the button, that’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting, too!


Drone Pilot at Arcosanti: Guest Post by Cinematographer Andy Bowley

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley.

i can’t remember if we drank a lot of beer that night.

but i do remember parting ways with david, after a nice meal on the upper west side of new york, saying yes! drone! arcosanti!

or something like that.

a few days later, he wrote to let me know he really wanted to do it.


i had a few weeks to prepare, so i bought a syma x1 quadcopter (about $35) and flew it all around my apartment.  my tweedy green chair became landing pad #1,  my other tweedy green chair became landing pad #2, and a pillow on the leather couch became landing pad #3.

lil uav, aka Mr. Droney

i practiced everyday i could and crashed and crashed and crashed.  and after a couple of weeks, found i could wing the little thing around — landing and taking off from pads 1-3 in nimble succession.  i knew i was ready for arcosanti when i could actually fly without sticking my tongue out of my mouth.

days later, i found myself standing in front of a whirring DJI phantom in the arizona desert. and now, the playground was vast.
instead of gliding from pillow to pillow, i was doing 1500′ runs thru canyons, over cliffs, and over top of paolo soleri’s glorious creation.

i couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.  which meant i pretty much kept my tongue in my mouth too.

 Andy may have been able to keep his tongue in his mouth at Arcosanti, but I was unable to lift my jaw off the floor after seeing the footage. Here’s one of the strafing shots he took of Arcosanti.
Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody. He can be found here and there on this blog. Other posts by this generous man:

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

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What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m[/color-box]

Time Lapses

Where Does the Time GO?

Wikipedia tells me that Georges Méliès first used time-lapse cinematography in his 1897 film Carrefour De L’Opera. Since then it has been used only god can count how many times. Many people, myself included, would say overused. This is a shame, because time-lapse does a great job of visually getting the point across that time passes quickly.

I am wrestling with using time-lapse in A Life’s Work despite its triteness. Below are two shots we set up for time-lapse, one at Arcosanti, one at the Allen Telescope Array. They are sped up so that about 40 minutes appears before you in about 40 seconds. (My software tells me it is sped up around 7,500%.) There are very good reasons to use these shots in the film, but relying on a cliche is usually not my style.

And Now, the Time Lapse Shots


And Now, About the Time Lapse Shots

I remember when cinematographer Andy Bowley and I set up the Arcosanti shot. We trekked down a ravine and up the mesa across from Arcosanti. Andy planted the camera, pressed the red record button, and we sat on a couple of rocks and watched the sunset. These little birds  flitted around us and charmed me. Their wings made a sound like I had never heard before. I said so to Andy and he told me that’s because they weren’t birds, but bats, and it was likely we were near a bat cave. I knew bats were beneficial, and I’ve always had an abstract fondness for them, but until then I had never been so close to so many. (I’m a city boy, and my city isn’t Austin.)  I was momentarily freaked out and worried about one landing in my hair. Andy assured me this was an old wives tale and I put it out of my mind and enjoyed the sunset, the swooping, fluttering bats, and the desert’s summer evening air.

I have no memory of bats or anything else when we captured the Allen Telescope Array time lapse shot.

And  Now, About the Sounds Accompanying the Time Lapse Shots

Arcosanti: That’s me playing steel string acoustic guitar, a doodle I came up with while at Ucross. I kind of like it. I recorded this in my bathroom, sitting in the tub, with the shower curtain closed, my little recorder on the toilet tank. Hope that’s not TMI.

ATA: These are sounds recorded by NASA/JPL. They are, in the order they were played:

Lightning on Saturn, captured by Cassini

Lightning on Jupiter, captured by Voyager

Saturn’s radio emissions, Captured by Cassini

These bits of audio have been time compressed as well. Amazing how we can manipulate time, and how it manipulate us. (The guitar music was not manipulated in any way.)

You can hear more space sounds, and download some great ringtones, from the NASA website.



Process: A Life’s Work and the Canon 5D by Guest Blogger Andy Bowley

Andy Bowley 5D

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley and originally published in June 2010. I’m putting up this “encore post” because shooting video with the Canon 5D has recently come up several times at my day job. That, plus I just like this post and Andy is an awesome writer.

I know. You’ve been wondering after reading this blog: what’s Licata really like to work with in the field? Sure, he seems measured and nice and all when he’s tapping away in his socks, all warm and cozy in his New York apartment–but what’s he like in the trenches? Is he a screamer?

Well, no–the opposite, actually. He’s a wonderful collaborator. But more importantly for my sake, he is well in touch with his inner geek.

Example: When he invited me to shoot the work being done by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project in Waco, I suggested we do some macro work with extension tubes and obscure Ukrainian/East German lenses to get close-up shots of needles and grooves.

His initial response? “Ooooh”

I told him it would be tweaky and slow working with these lenses, which would sometimes allow us just a millimeter or two of effective focal range — and that we’d have to mount them to a Canon 5D DSLR and go through a not-yet-tested workflow.

His response? “Great. If you can think of more possibilities, bring ‘em on”

Just what I hoped hear. A director with patience. But more importantly, another geek who understood. I was excited. But time was short.

I began to test my macro set-up the next day. I was training for a trail race at the time, running every morning along the paths that cut through a wooded section of Central Park. Along the way I found a pinecone–perfect for the test–and maybe useful for A Life’ s Work.

My Manhattan pinecone had lots of interesting shapes and exuded its own woodsy charisma, but I needed to make it move for the camera. Not having enough time to construct a motorized turntable, I biked to the hardware store, bought a lazy Susan, plunked it under a metal Ikea filing box (the heaviest thing with a flat surface I could find in my apartment,) mounted my Zeiss Jena 80mm lens on an extension tube and tilt adapter, and shot some test footage with the Canon 5D.

The results?

[vimeo width=”500″ height=”300″][/vimeo]

I liked what the lenses did that day – but the lazy Susan filing box turntable system was less than optimal. No matter. Much of the macro stuff I hoped to shoot in Waco would be moving–records spinning, needles dropping–and if all else failed I could use my new Kessler pocket dolly to make the moves.

That night, I somehow managed to pack all the gear (lights, grip gear, tripod and dolly) into two checked bags. I was leaving for Waco early the next morning.

Tune in next week for Here’s Andy’s post about the shoot and some beautiful HD footage. If you want to read Andy’s tech notes about the pinecone test, click here.


Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody, but he considers the coolest thing on his mantle to be an old Pentacon six medium format camera, which now sits next to his beloved Manhattan pinecone. He has found a lot of other things while running through wooded sections of Central Park, but doesn’t want to talk about it.

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t


Bristlecone Pine Trees: A Clip and an Argument Between DP and Editor

The Bristlecone Pine Tree


Excuse Me While I Go Schizo

I came across this shot while editing a sequence on bristlecone pine trees and the Milarch’s successful cloning of the Methuselah tree and I immediately got into an argument with the cinematographer who shot it. The cinematographer in this case being me. (I think I shot maybe 6 of the 110 hours of total footage and I’m probably pleased with about 4 minutes of those 6 hours.)

David the Editor:  Why didn’t you just lay off the zoom button?

David the Cinematographer: Dude! It would have been a super long take. And I thought the movement of the shadow combined with the  zooms would work nicely. Do you like them?

David the Editor: I do, I just wish you had committed. Maybe one slow long zoom in or zoom out.

David the Cinematographer: You editors, you’re always looking at what was missed, what wasn’t shot. You know that if I hadn’t touched the camera you would be telling me, “Why didn’t you zoom in and zoom out? Give me some options? No way can I use such a long take!”

David the Editor: Can’t I have my cake and eat it to.

David the Cinematographer: In this case, no.

And so the argument ended and I went back to editing.


For closer views of these ancient and majestic trees, visit these links:

Prometheus, Older Than Methuselah: A Clip

Bristlecone Pine Trees: The Polaroids


An Email On My Corkboard?

We all need some kind of reassurance from time to time. One of the things I need it for is my skill as a cinematographer. So on my corkboard is a print out of an email from Andy Bowley, a very fine cinematographer who shot much of A Life’s Work.

Here's an actual email from a real cinematographer!

Thank you, Andy. Your email not only flatters me, but it makes me laugh. And that’s why it’s on my corkboard.

And here’s the video clip in question. Which I shot. Enjoy the banter, which starts about 30 seconds in.


For more about this clip, which I shot, click here. Did I mention I shot it?

Do you keep such things around to bolster your confidence? Please tell me I’m not alone here.

What a D.P. Sees

I am always awed by how cinematographers see so much more than I do. We can be looking at exactly the same thing, the same angle, the same  frame, and they’ll register all sorts of details, big and small, on an initial viewing that I won’t see until I’ve viewed the footage they shot several times.

In July, cinematographer Andy Bowley and I went to Arcosanti to shoot some construction and conduct a follow-up interview with Paolo Soleri. Here’s what Andy saw through the viewfinder during the interview.

During David’s last interview with Arcosanti architect Paolo Soleri, I was struck by what I witnessed through the camera – something rare and powerful and surprising. Initially our interview clicked along in the usual way: director asks question, subject answers.

But halfway through, David asked Soleri how he maintained his motivation — and then went on to admit there were times when he had difficulty maintaining his enthusiasm for A Life’s Work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a director show such vulnerability to an interview subject during an interview. It was startling to me – a wonderful moment. But what put it over the top was Paolo’s silent reaction: he leaned forward to listen, smiling and avuncular and compassionate, and then went on to answer the question in the broadest philosophical terms anyone could imagine.

Soleri’s expression said so much to me about the relationship between the filmmaker and subject.  Sure they had been jousting all along – Paolo endlessly skirting David’s more personal questions, David dancing and jabbing as best he could, but underneath it all there was also a kind of artistic connection between them –  clearly (and wordlessly!) established during this one little moment.

It strikes me as such an important thing in any documentary: a nod to the audience, no matter how subtle, that there is a process going on. There are pointed cameras and hovering furry microphones, and most importantly a relationship, often rich and complex, evolving between the subject and the filmmaker.

Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody.

Andy’s other posts:

Charismatic Manhattan Pinecone Test

This Post Is For You, Gearheads!

Hardest/Easiest Work Environments So Far in 2010

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

Tree Climbers, Memory and Videotape: A Clip

Here’s about five and half minutes of raw footage from A Life’s Work.


I shared this footage in an earlier post (Process: What I’m Thinking When I’m Shooting). I want to share it again for a different reason.

I really enjoyed filming the climbers. They were smart, athletic, down to earth, and funny. They seemed to really enjoy their work and the company that employed them, Bartlett Tree Experts in San Rafael, CA. And Bartlett seemed to appreciate and nurture them. When I reviewed this footage for this post, I was looking for an exchange I had with these two climbers. I remember it, as they say, vividly.

“You guys have the coolest job,” I said.
And one of them replied, “I think you have the coolest job.”
“Pfffffttt…” I said.

I watched the footage over and over, certain that I had captured this exchange. If you have an eye for such things, you’ll notice that there’s one break at 4:05. After the break one of the climbers asks “Good to go?” If you could look behind the curtain and look at my logged tapes, you’d see that footage from before the break comes at the end of one tape, and the footage after the break comes from the beginning of another tape. So the exchange I cherish so much occurred while I was changing tape.

So much can happen in the few seconds it takes to change tape. Hopefully you forget about it and don’t live the rest of your days reliving the moment you failed to capture, the moment that would have made your film amazing. The exchange between the climbers and me? It wasn’t going to make A Life’s Work amazing. But it was one of my fondest moments there, made my time there amazing. But I remember it, and that’s good enough.

I do wish I had it on tape, though.

This post is dedicated to John Metzdorf, tree lover.

Process: What I’m Thinking When I’m Shooting – Clips

Here’s an excerpt from the Redwoods section of the sample of A Life’s Work. Notice the first two shots and the last two shots.


Here’s about five and half minutes of raw footage from the Redwoods shoot. The first two and last two shots from the first clip come from this raw footage.


This was one of the rare shoots I went on solo, so I can tell you what I was going for with that camera in my hand. If you look at the full Redwoods section you’ll see men ascending the trees and cutting clippings, clippings falling to the ground, men descending the trees, more cutting of clippings on the ground, and packing up the clippings. That was the goal: document the process from start to finish.

In the raw footage above the goal was to capture these guys clipping and bagging. I was working hand held, and I moved around a little bit. I wanted to get different angles within a 180 degree arc and different sizes — close ups, medium shots and long shots. I was thinking about how this little sequence might be edited together as I was shooting, so I was conscious of “matching” shots, that is, I was consciously trying to get a long shot of a man with a clipper in his right hand, shoot a close up of the clippers, get a shot of clippings being placed in a bag or cooler. That way the shots could be edit seamlessly together. I kept thinking: different sizes, different angles, give the editor as many options as possible. Frame the shots simply. Nothing distracting or disorienting. In the raw footage you’ll see the tripod as the camera follows the climbers out of the alcove and approach the cooler (4:20 to 4:35). Bad bit of luck there.

As I look at the footage now, I think I did an okay job, and maybe the proof of that is in the excerpt, but I probably should have shot this without engaging the climbers. After all, my aim wasn’t to interview them (they aren’t the subjects, David Milarch is), but to get footage of them packing up the clippings. In my defense, I knew at the time that the footage I would need from this setup would be minimal, and I was confident I was covering that. With that in mind, I felt free to talk to them, because you never know what you might get. Also I wanted to talk to these guys because I really liked them, so I indulged, and I don’t regret that at all. More on that in a future post.

See also Why Do I Keep This in My Wallet? a post about the jitters I felt before this shoot.

This post is dedicated to John Metzdorf, tree lover.

Rashomon and A Life’s Work

The other night I went to see Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon at the Brooklyn Public Library. I’ve seen this film quite a few times, and a few years ago, while preparing for the Redwoods shoot, I watched the Woodsman’s trek sequence over and over. You can see it here, 7:20 into the clip. It lasts almost two minutes.


Kurosawa shot trees like no one else. (I also watched Throne of Blood many times, lots of good trees in that one, too.) If you watch the Redwoods sequence, you probably won’t find many direct references to Rashomon (I didn’t have the luxury of a large crew and tons of equipment to shoot the amazing tracking shots and I’m certainly no Kazuo Miyagawa), but somewhere in the DNA of that footage is the Woodsman’s trek.

See also: What Does This Filmmaker Read Before Shooting a Bunch of Old Trees?

Why Do I Keep This in My Wallet?