Process – This Post Is For You, Gearheads!

By Guest Blogger Andy Bowley. This post is best read in conjunction with Andy’s piece about testing his Canon 5D Mark II DSLR camera and various lens for our shoot in Waco, Texas.

I can probably blame Philip Bloom for getting me interested in these behind-the-iron-curtain lenses. A while back he wrote about using the Hartblei Super Rotator, a Ukranian-built lens that could tilt and shift and rotate 360 degrees, very useful for selectively expanding and limiting areas of focus in frame. I was obsessed with finding one, and very happy to land a 40mm f3.5 at a photo shop in Barcelona. Only trouble was, when I got it home I discovered that it would not mount to the Contax ring of my Letus adapter–not being a still photographer, I failed to realize there were two kinds of Contax mounts.

After some research I decided to go down a different path to getting a tilt lens setup (I had no need for shift, really). I discovered that there were lots of very fine medium format lenses manufactured, like the Hartblei, with Pentacon Six mounts (a now-obscure  mount popular with the Eastern Bloc set) that could be mounted to a tilt adapter. Best among them were the Zeiss lenses manufactured at the original Jena factory.

Excuse me Buckminster Fuller, but that’s the world’s first geodesic dome getting itself built for the roof of the Zeiss factory in 1928.

 

 

During the American withdrawal in 1945, the town of Jena (and the Zeiss factory) increasingly fell under Soviet influence. After “firm encouragement” from the Americans, some Zeiss technology and engineering staff were spirited out to a new site in Oberkochen–the site of the legendary Zeiss lens factory most of us Western folks know today. The two factories collaborated for a while, but as time went on, they began to innovate and manufacture independently. The Zeiss Oberkochen factory made lenses for western cameras; the Zeiss Jena factory, lenses for Eastern Bloc cameras, like the tankish Pentacon Six.

The Pentacon Six camera was manufactured at the Arsenal factory in Kiev. Arsenal also produced some nice lenses (though the quality control has often been described as hit-or-miss). I particularly like the Mir 26B 45mm f3.5, the lens is built from same elements as old Hartblei Super Rotator. I also like the Zeiss Jena 80mm f2.8, which tests well against the very best western primes. I used both lenses with Pentacon Six extension tubes and a Pentacon Six to Nikon tilt adapter. (These are manufactured by both Arsenal and Hartblei.)

Best source for the Pentacon Six stuff is still Ebay – German Ebay is even better/cheaper if you can manage the language barrier and ultra-slow shipping.

Zeiss Jena lenses were manufactured well into the eighties, or at least as long as the last season of Charlie’s Angels television series.

Using this setup requires lots of light. The extension tubes have a heavy exposure factor (roughly two stops in the configuration I used), and with such a tiny depth of field, it’s not advisable to shoot anywhere near wide open. I used a Rifa 66 softlight, hovering just out of frame with a 1k globe inside, giving me enough light to stop down to a f5.6 or more. I also made use of a tilt adapter, selectively adding depth of field on one axis when I could.

Working with macro is tweaky. With a depth of focus of just a millimeter or two, it is hugely helpful to have the ability to move the subject easily, or better, to move camera along focal axis on some kind of sliding device, like a macro rail — or in my case, a Kessler pocket dolly.

Equipment List for Macro Test

Canon 5D Mark II DSLR

Zacuto Pro Finder

Fotodiox Nikon to Canon adapter ring

Zeiss 80mm f2.8 Biometar

Arsenal Mir 26B 45mm f3.5

Arsenal Pentacon Six to Nikon tilt adapter

Arsenal Pentacon Six “automatic” extension tubes

Lowell Rifa 66 with 1k globe.

Miller Solo DV legs.

Manfrotto 75mm half-ball adapter (great for quickly leveling Pocket Dolly)

Kessler Traveler Pocket Dolly with Giottos MH-621 quick release

Velbon PH-368 fluid head.

*if you use the Manfrotto ball adapter with Miller legs and Pocket Dolly, put a big washer between the dolly and adapter – this will allow slider to get past top edge of legs.

If you want to read more about the Pentacon Six system, check out the superb pentaconsix.com website.

Links

focus

Philip Bloom

pentacon six

hartblei super rotator

tests well

extension tubes

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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

 

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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]

The Director Sleeps Tonight – A Clip (that now works)

I’m logging footage these days and I came across this gem. (There’s no sound, so don’t go turning up your speakers. And I’m sending you to the film’s Facebook page with the hope that you’ll click the big “Like” button, if you haven’t already, and thereby have access to all things A Life’s Work.)

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3LJ5Dq_I9Ho[/youtube]

Yep, that’s me. Cinematographer Andy Bowley was setting up the lighting for the interview with Robert Darden of the BGMRP and asked me to sit in. Usually a dp doesn’t roll camera when someone is sitting in, they’ll just look through the viewfinder, tweak exposure and mess with the lights, but  I suppose Andy just couldn’t resist when he saw my eyes glazing over. Why am I posting it? To dispel the illusion that filmmaking is exciting and glamorous? Partly.

But mainly because I put other people in front of the camera all the time; turnabout is fair play.

Also, I think it’s kind of funny and I enjoy laughing at myself.

And to be fair to myself, please note the quick recovery.

“What the Hey Were You Doing in Waco, Texas?” Part 1

Cinematographer Andy Bowley and I visited Robert Darden at Baylor University, home of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project. Though I conducted an extensive interview with Robert in Chicago (see “What the Heck Were You Doing in Chicago?” Part 1), I needed to capture the process of digitization that occurs at Baylor’s Moody Library. And I needed to do a follow-up interview. (There’s always a follow-up interview, no matter how extensive the first one.)

The shoot went well and I have the battle scar to prove it.

We used a lot of Andy’s gear, including his Canon DSLR, which folks are using to shoot films these days. One advantage is you can attach all manner of  lens to the body, which we did, using a macro lens to get in super tight on the phonograph needle in the grooves of the vinyl. Nice stuff. (I hope to have stills up soon.)

Thanks to Robert Darden, Mary Landon Darden, Pattie Orr, Tony Tadey, Tim Logan, Darryl Stuhr, Eric Ames, Denyse Rodgers, Amanda Harlan, Emily Kensing, Ashleigh Ware, and everyone at Baylor for making the shoot so fun and carefree.

How Do You Find These People? The Cinematographers

Andy Bowley, Cinematographer

Recently I had a lovely sushi dinner with my friend Meryl, a photography-based artist and teacher. She had just watched the clips of A Life’s Work and was taken by the quality of the images. “How did you find such great cinematographers?” she asked.

“A friend of a friend. That’s usually how it … actually, now that I think about it, I found them all through you!”

She was perplexed. Here’s how it went.

Wolfgang Held on the set of Tango Octogenario
Wolfgang Held on the set of Tango Octogenario. Photo by Peter LaMastro.

In the summer of 2001 my film 8 1/2 x 11 was accepted into the Woodstock Film Festival. Meryl, it turns out, had recently bought a weekend home in Woodstock  and I asked if I could stay with her the weekend my film showed, the third weekend in September, I believe it was. She didn’t hesitate for a second and the plans were finalized.

Then 9/11 happened. At the time I worked in Tribeca and I saw a great deal first hand. After that, the last thing I wanted to do was show my little comedy at a film festival. I called Meryl to tell her I wasn’t going to the festival, and she told me I had to, that I had to be there to see my baby. Meryl is a most inspiring person; it’s no accident she’s a good teacher. She convinced me to go. Not to get too far off track, but like everyone else there I felt weird about showing my film at that time, but there was something soothing about that festival. It was very much the right thing to do, to celebrate our ability to create and not succumb to the despair after witnessing our ability to destroy.

Andy Bowley amidst the ATA, Hat Creek, CA. Photo by me.
Andy Bowley amidst the ATA, Hat Creek, CA. Photo by me.

So, because Meryl told me I had to go, I became friends with a filmmaker, K. K., not too long afterwards, sent me an e-mail asking me if I’d be interested in being set up with her friend, R. I didn’t object. We became a couple and when I started looking for cinematographers for Tango Octogenario, she told me I should ask her friend, filmmaker and photographer Robert Palumbo, for recommendations. Both Wolfgang Held and Andy Bowley came via Robert.

Me and Thomas M. Harting, CSC, Mt. Lassen, CA. Photo by Danica Li Roth.
Me and Thomas M. Harting, CSC, Mt. Lassen, CA. Photo by Danica Li Roth.

And Tom Harting was Meryl’s doing, too. Through R. I socialized and eventually became very good friends with Roland Tec, and when I was searching for a d.p. in June 2008, Roland suggested Tom.

I’m not sure there’s a point to this story, except that maybe you can never really predict who is on the horizon of your life and how he or she is going to enter it.

What Was I Thinking?

David Milarch, Paolo Soleri, Jill Cornell Tarter, Robert Darden.
David Milarch, Paolo Soleri, Jill Tarter, Robert Darden.

I recently watched “The Making of Touch the Sound,” one of the extras on Thomas Riedelsheimer’s film about percussionist Evelyn Glennie. In it Riedelsheimer reveals that he envisioned the staged improvisational musical segments between Glennie and composer Fred Frith to be the spine of the film. The director planned on showing them footage of the film with the idea that the musicians would then improvise based on those images. But the musicians balked.

Frith tells the filmmaker, “I think the danger is when you give an idea which has got too much information and therefore whatever we do tends to become descriptive and I think descriptive music is not good. It fails. It doesn’t describe anything.”

Cut to the director addressing the camera–

“My idea was to give them ideas to which they could improvise. At the time I didn’t know that this is a contradiction in terms, as improvising requires the liberation from any conception or idea.”

And so Glennie and Frith let the space, the moment, and each other inspire them, not the footage. Riedelsheimer was clearly not pleased. At the time, he saw what he imagined as the entire structure of his film fall apart.

This struck a chord. Before filming began, I had many ideas about what A Life’s Work was going to be and not going to be. I am sticking with many of these ideas, but I have jettisoned just as many if not more. Some because they were impractial, some because they were incompatible, and some because they were just stinker ideas.

For instance: No talking heads. I was going to use just the subject’s voices over images of their work and images of them working. Talking heads, I convinced myself, were a crutch. I carried this idea to an extreme and conducted my first interview with Arcosanti architect Paolo Soleri audio only. Not surprisingly, this did not please Wolfgang Held, the cinematographer. We had an animated discussion about it the day of the first interview and I won that battle. The next day we interviewed Soleri in front of the camera.

Look at these faces. I can’t believe I thought my audio only idea was a good one. And the thing is, I love the human face and find it a fascinating subject to photograph. There is no living thing on the planet more expressive. Since that interview, I conduct all interviews in front of the camera. So, what was I thinking? In my defense I can only say that I have a tendency to be reactionary. And you know, the idea isn’t always a terrible one. It worked brilliantly in Al Reinert’s For All Mankind, a wonderful documentary composed of NASA Apollo footage and audio only interviews with Apollo astronauts. But Reinert’s film is a special case and that approach wouldn’t work for A Life’s Work.

Thankfully, I was saved from this idea very quickly. I’m awfully glad I have people around me who will call me on stuff, because in the end, it’s not about implementing all of my ideas, it’s about what works best for the film.

The Shot That Got Away

In the last post, I revealed two of my favorite shots. I wish there was a third clip there.

The Golden Record
The Golden Record

When we were filming Jill Tarter at the SETI Institute’s offices in Mountain View, CA, we also had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Frank Drake, he of the Drake Equation. Drake also designed the Pioneer plaque with Carl Sagan and  was one of the astronomers responsible for selecting the sounds of earth that are contained on the golden record on the Voyager space probes. That record includes Blind Willie Johnson’s harrowing gospel classic “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.” The Voyager probes have left our solar system, and so has Blind Willie Johnson.

But I digress, sort of.  Dr. Drake and Andy Bowley, the cinematographer on this shoot, spent several minutes off camera talking about orchids. It’s a wonderful memory, but I wish I had thought to press the record button. I must accept that not everything can be documented, that some things will exist as memory only.

I’m working on this.

Why Do I Love These Shots?

[cross-posted at extracriticum.com]

I was looking through the Extra Criticum archive and being a person who would rather look at images than read, I clicked on Rolando Teco’s “Why Do I Like This Shot?” It made me think of a question I’m sometimes asked (usually by fellow filmmakers) when I screen one of my films. “What’s your favorite shot?”

I can’t really choose one, but here’s two of many. To say that they are on the cutting room floor isn’t quite accurate. These shots were known to be unusable from the get go.

(Note: The first clip is without sound, the second has sound.)

[vimeo]https://vimeo.com/101522967[/vimeo]
The first clip is from Tango Octogenario. I called, “Cut, that’s a wrap,” and  the cinematographer, Wolfgang Held, let the last few feet of the film run out of the magazine. I’m so glad he did. The fluttering you see is the A.C.’s hand in front of the lens. I love the expressionistic quality of these few feet of film, but most of all, I love the smiles on the Turneys’ faces.

The second clip was the conclusion of my interview with architect and philosopher Paolo Soleri. This was the first interview we shot for the documentary and landing Soleri as a subject was colossal. Soleri is a sweet man, and generous, but not when he’s in front of a camera. In fact, he loathes cameras. I was intimidated beyond belief and he sensed my fear, no question. He controlled much of the interview and toyed with my questions, frequently answering them with one word answers.

But I persevered and reframed many of my questions and when it was over, I felt like I got the job done, and more. Wolfgang let the camera roll again and he captured my relief and gratitude. It really was one of the great joys of my life meeting Soleri. I love his laugh when I tell him that, and his offering of his hand at that moment is much more than a civil handshake. I actually was holding back tears then and if you listen closely you can hear me sniffling.

So why do I love these shots?

Because they were taken at the end of the shoot. When I look at them, I remember the relief I felt at those moments but also the joy at having completed something, and I think both of those things show up in my face. Of course the films weren’t complete, there was still post-production with Tango, and there is a lot more footage to shoot and post for A Life’s Work, but I like to think my expression is kind of like that of a cyclist who finished first during an early stage of the Tour de France. He’s happy he has a win under his belt, but he knows there’s a lot more race left.

What’s your reaction to these clips? Obviously, they mean a lot to me, like a snapshot of my family means a lot to me. But to you…? Well, you tell me. What do you make of these?

The next post: The Shot That Got Away.

The Readiness Is All

Friday, August 7th, I’m heading to Chicago to do the next interview. You’ll forgive me if I don’t reveal the subject by name yet. I will in time, perhaps after I’ve had time to digest the interviews. There is a chance, after all, that he won’t work in the film, but I’m confident he will. For now it’s enough to say that he is a passionate collector and archivist of a certain genre of music and he’s written books and articles about that music. His work, like the work of the other subjects in the film, will probably not be completed in his lifetime. I’ve heard him say as much.

So, am I prepared to interview him and follow him around? Well, I have prepared, but I never feel prepared enough. This probably isn’t a bad thing. I think it’s good to feel a little on edge inside, a little uncertainty. Keeps one sharp.

What have I done to prepare? I’ve read his books and articles. Twice. I’ve read books by other authors on his specialty. I’ve listened to a lot of music. I’ve watched a few documentaries on his field of expertise. I try not to do too much of that last one because I want to keep the influence of others’ work (especially documentary films) to a minimum.

And the logistics of course, always the logistics: booking the flight and hotel and rental car. Exchanging e-mails and phone calls with the subject to coordinate schedules. And the big one, securing the cinematographer.

The slate from Tango Octogenario.
The slate from Tango Octogenario.

I’m very pleased to be working with Wolfgang Held again. It’s been more than two years since we’ve worked together. Too long. Wolfgang and I have become good friends since he shot Tango Octogenario and we’ve developed a solid collaborative relationship. I feel like he pushes me to be my best. He senses when I have a concern or an idea and he calls me on it. “What are you thinking?” “What are you seeing?” These are questions he often asks me when we’re shooting and I love that. And he tells me when I have a stinker of an idea. (More about that in a future post.)

There’s still work to be done. I need to organize the questions so they have a certain flow to them. I have an idea for an interview space and I need to secure it. And a few scheduling details still need to be ironed out. And if I’m lucky we’ll be able to shoot …. No. I must not get ahead of myself.

Hopefully I’ll write ecstatically about it all when I return home.

Wish me luck!