Visual Storytelling, Unlimited
How did you discover you wanted to be in this field?
Visual storytelling has always been a part of me. I was introduced to the mechanics of visual effects at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). My first time on set as a visual effects supervisor was for a small green-screen shoot, and I was hooked. That was where I needed to be; the energy on set is unrivaled.
How did you get your first job?
In my final year at SVA, our class visited R!OT Manhattan where I saw a VFX breakdown of a Volkswagon ad: day for night execution, matte painting, all set to "Pink Moon" by Nick Drake. I was convinced I had to be a part of it. After an overly perspired interview and a semester-long unpaid internship, they hired me to make dubs and archive the flame machines…I was unbelievably proud and excited.
Which do you prefer, live-action directing or VFX and why?
I couldn't possibly separate the two. The stories I have to tell are deeply rooted in bringing these two disciplines together. The worlds I see start with a familiar base. It’s as the story progresses, as it turns and reveals itself, that it always seems to cast something extraordinary, something magical. It doesn't have to be much, and it always has to serve the story.
What tools do you find indispensable for your work?
If a day has gone by without my Canon 5DmkIII in my hand, then it was an unproductive day. Looking through the lens helps me to sharpen my visual language. Also, my iPad has wrestled its way into my workflow from Evernote to Penultimate to Keynote among others. Writing treatments, sketching storyboards and building presentations while keeping all of my different projects organized has never been so freeing.
What film are you most proud of, and why?
So far, the piece I did for New Balance still holds a special place for me. It was the most ambitious thing I had done at the time. From all the work of developing a camera rig to working with the team and getting the CG just right. It is just striking, visually. I love it.
If you could have a dream assignment in this field, what would it be?
I've had the privilege of being a director on a set. Every time I go to my job I feel like I'm literally living the dream (someone punch me for saying that!). Any assignment I could get would be met with the same enthusiasm and hard work. It's that level of problem solving, collaboration and creativity that I think you rarely see in other fields, that also makes each assignment so very different from the last.
Where do your best ideas come from?
They never come from a search for them. Usually there is a sequence, fragments, a line of subway dialogue, a photo, music, etc. The first item will resonate. Then as the following pieces reveal themselves they harmonize and hopefully inspire something bigger than each of those pieces meant to me in the first place. That always turns out to be the easy part.
What resources do you turn to for inspiration? Any sites/blogs/magazines/events you frequent?
Living in NYC, it’s hard to walk out your door and not be inspired by something. I can get on my bike, ride the streets and come back with a fresh take on any project on my plate. When it’s raining, I'll spend some good quality time with Flipboard in the morning. I have stuffed it with feeds from Vogue, EarthSky, FFFFOUND!, Contemporist, Beautiful/Decay, NPR, Juxtapoz, Hi-Fructose, Untapped Cities, and Archdaily to name a few!
What personal/pro-bono creative projects are you working on, if any?
There are always many in various stages. I am just about to film a short branded content piece for a bespoke bicycle shop in Brooklyn. Part love story, part chase sequence, the piece will explore the blurred boundaries between man and extremely well-crafted machine.
What's your favorite quote?
"What's in store for me in the direction I don't take?" —Jack Kerouac
Whose work do you love and look towards for inspiration?
I've become re-acquainted with Mr. Kubrick through his Archives. I get lost in those pages and always come out with something new.
What excites you about visual storytelling right now?
The technology needed to create impossibilities on the screen has evolved to a point of mind-blowing reality. More importantly, the artists driving this tech have become unbelievably skilled at pushing it to their will; bending this reality to whatever our imagination can conjure. Thus widening the possibilities of what stories we can tell, near limitless.
What are the top challenges facing your industry today? Is there an ideal way to overcome these challenges?
I think that it has been a sobering year for digital filmmaking. Shrinking budgets and higher margins have squeezed FX studios. Aiming for higher efficiency in your business is one thing, but completely undervaluing the artistry, hard work and innovation that regularly takes place on these projects is a huge mistake. I don't know what the answer is. You have seen studios evolve from specialized boutiques to all-in-one-stop-shops. I can't imagine that there will be a reversal. I think it would be great if we could stop the race to the bottom…and then change the conversation from money to value.
Any fantastic plug-ins/tools you recently found that you would recommend?
I really like what people have been doing with Microsoft's Kinect. Brekel is one of them, providing tools for markerless motion capture. The ability to use natural human motion to drive either characters or other animated elements is a great addition to anyone's toolkit. The portability and ease-of-use are huge. I am currently developing a project that will allow me to experiment a bit with this.
What emerging technologies and innovations will have the biggest impact on how you create in the next few years?
I think the full-on switch over from film to digital is the biggest shift. RED has been leading the charge for so long. But now with the Alexa and Sony's F65, there is no longer this feeling of compromise. The cameras are getting so good and small! Blackmagic's 2k Cinema Camera, the Digital Bolex D16, even Canon's 5dmkIII is getting a firmware update next month that will allow you to record straight to ProRes, bypassing the h.264 compression stage, giving you a much better picture to work with in post. This allows me to get out and shoot more freely, even throw up a green screen and know I'll be able to work with it later.
What are the most important skills you need to succeed in directing and VFX?
Whether on set or in the studio, you will not get far without open/clear communication and a healthy dose of collaboration. It’s a process, and everyone shares the same goal of creating something truly great. We all just have different ideas on what that means and how to get there! My opinions are strong, and I fight hard for what I want to see, but if an idea emerges that tells the story better, you have to be willing to listen.
Do you have any advice for people just entering the field?
Don't ever stop making.