Stuff I Use: Hollywood Microdolly

This thing is pure gold: the Hollywood Microdolly. Sets up in two minutes, is smooth, light, and fits into a small handbag about 30″ long. It weighs maybe five pounds, and you can set up a new shot in less than 30 seconds. Fifteen feet of travel and it looks great.

This shot is from a tripod-mounted Red, sitting on top of the micro dolly. Saif was doing a press check at his workstation. Behind us is a 150-foot-long giant of a Heidelberg, pumping out four completed magazines every second.

We set this up while he was working. His movements weren’t coordinated – we tracked with him as he worked, guessing at each action. Having the Microdolly took this from a boring pan shot to a much more interesting movement that accentuates the speed of the action and the size of the workstation, while keeping the focus on his attentive character.

A Second Sun

24-70 f2.8L detail

Over time I’ve developed a kit of photo gear that I’m very happy with. On my shoulders is a sling bag holding my trusty 70-200 f/2.8L IS, spare batteries, angle finder, 17-40 f/4L, a small nalgene for water & a clif bar for stocking up on energy. In one hand is usually my 5D & battery grip, loaded with a 24-70 f/2.8L.

On this trip, I have a new addition:

Flash Device
It’s a wireless handheld flash contraption, in case you’re wondering.

For the last while I’ve wanted to try carrying a small strobe with me, for practical and artistic reasons. Practically, a flash can help manage contrast in mid-day equatorial sunshine – shooting dark skin often results in excessive dynamic range, beyond what a digital sensor can capture. Artistically, a strobe allows creative control over contrast, giving me a second light source. I’m no longer at the mercy of the sun.

I’ve rigged together something portable that I can hold while shooting, or have someone else hold for me (human light stands are more flexible than metal ones). It consists of a post mounted onto a threaded handle (actually designed for shock-mounting a microphone), onto which tightens an umbrella angle bracket. I’m using Pocketwizard wireless flash releases, one on the camera, the other on a custom threaded mount (a screw welded onto a hose clamp, which tightens around the handle). On top of it all is a Vivitar 285HV flash.

The results are dramatic. Otherwise unshootable scenes transform into photographic frames with pop. My favorite technique is to cross-light, using the sun as fill and the flash as key light. Here are a couple examples from a recent gallery:

Rwandan Kids in Field 1Rwandan Kids in Field 2

I’m very pleased with the results, and I’m looking forward to using this technique in Bulembu. The original idea for this combination came from conversations with Jesse and reading Strobist, a great online resource for photographic lighting.

Here’s a few photos of the kit all put together:

Strobist Kit 1Strobist Kit 2
Strobist Kit 3Trev in 24

There & Back Again

After an evening of packing, sorting, and de-integrating our now well-rehearsed package of gear, Lyn & Jesse have hopped a flight to Nairobi. I’m here in Rwanda for another week, picking up extra shots, stills, and waiting on a couple possible interviews before heading to Swaziland. There is more still to be written in the story of this film, but somehow the departure of the better half of the crew is a good time to take stock.

Lyn & Jesse at the Geranium Project - Small

A few things I’ll miss now that Lyn & Jesse are on their way:
  • Lyn & Jesse
  • Rosten Jr, a.k.a. the RED
  • the sounds of Super Mario Brothers chiming from Jesse’s laptop
  • Lyn perched on her chair, editing audio
  • trekking across three hours of “main” road, stopping for bridge repairs and trees being felled on the road
A few things I wish I’d known before arriving:
  • that we’d only shoot 500GB worth of footage (I brought 8 terabytes of storage…)
  • that a portable card downloader and sling bag are necessary accessories for shooting RED
  • how hard this trip would be (more on this later)
A few things I’m glad I got right:
  • get a big, bad-ass pelican case. It’s always handy for keeping something safe (e.g. transferring a RED over open water, or protecting drives as bounce down the road)
  • bring a backup for everything critical in the imaging chain
  • local knowledge & friends on the ground make all the difference
Something I won’t miss:
  • Sony gear. All things Sony seem bent on my distress.
A few things I’m looking forward to:
  • some time to slow down and take stock of where the film is at
  • space to wander, shoot stills and observe without impending deadlines
  • time spent with our main characters outside the rigors of filming

More to come…

Act III: Rwanda’s Bridge Generation

I’ve struggled for awhile with the theme of the third act of the film – it lacks a source of tension to drive the story: i.e. what is the present-tense hope & fear of our characters? After meeting with Nicholas and brainstorming on a giant whiteboard with Lyn & Jesse today, I think I’ve landed on it.

Often we hear people talk about the genocide and what was lost: how the Rwandese who lived through it will never be the same. They have the ideology and memory of those events permanently in their memory, and it will always influence their lives; but it does not have to stay that way. The kids being brought up now have an opportunity for a fresh start, to not repeat the errors of the past, but bring a new, prosperous and hopeful future to Rwanda.

In a previous interview, Nicholas spoke about his generation as a “bridge generation”. Those who lived through the genocide are able to bring about a different kind of future by providing opportunities for the next generation, teaching them to think for themselves, bringing them up in an environment where each person has value.

This concept is everywhere… it’s not unique to the Rwandan context. But what is unique is how conscious people are of it. They have seen the results: what happens if things do not change, if people are not able to think for themselves and don’t have opportunity. And now they have a chance to do it differently. The struggle to be a bridge for the next generation is behind much of what drives people every day.

Recognizing this theme brings clarity to the many, many good people and projects we’ve had the chance to film, and I think it will finally give a frame on which to hang the last act of our film.

Backstage Pass: A guide to recognizing your whereabouts

I’m anticipating two kinds of visitors to this site. One is professional contacts, linking from an email or business card and inquiring about me as a photographer or film director. The other are friends, family, and people inquisitive about the creative dimension of my work – a more curious crowd, willing to spend some time discovering and poking around. This site is built for both audiences.

For the professionally-oriented visitor, the first page you see at trevormeier.com has links to the basics: an About page (with a bio and links to contact me) and the latest news. I also offer a news-only RSS feed for keeping up on the latest goings on, without the rest of the blog content. This audience gets immediate access to a subset of targeted content: quick and logical.

For everyone else, the site takes on a different character. To participate in the story of the site, visitors enter into the timeline, with all of the content is organized into chronological order.* In that sense it is a “blog”… but this blog is different.

Posts are displayed one at a time. Each post gets its own page, with arrows at bottom right to navigate forward and back. Design follows content: there is a distinct lack of clutter, the intent always to immerse the reader in the content. Each type of post has a unique design suited to the type of material. For example, news posts have a white background, a serif headline and an icon representing a news feed; photography posts have dark background and a wide aspect ratio with lots of room to show off the photo. All the other usual clutter of a blog is tucked away behind four icons at the top, and behind each post’s title.

Clicking on the title of a post opens it in a view that allows comments. The title also links to the permanent address of each post, for bookmarking etc.

At the top-left of the page, hovering over the icon reveals links to go home and to the top of the blog. At top-right, three icons link to the RSS feed, an index of the most recent posts, and the about page: home of everything else you might want to find or know about me or the site.

Hopefully this will help you find your way around. If you’re lost, or have comments or suggestions, you can always contact me.

*If you’re sneaky, you’ll notice that there are some posts that don’t show up on the main posts timeline. These contain more specific or less general-interest content. They do show up in the RSS feed – a likely place for aficionados to be lurking. They can also be accessed via the archives, or by tabbing forward and back from the single post view (reached by clicking on any post’s title). Try going to first post on the blog, clicking on the post’s title, then clicking back on the arrows at the bottom right of the page…

Backstage Pass: Thematic Integrity

Maasai Article Header Crop

It took a long time to understand my desire to publish online. I’m discovering that knowing my theme makes choosing much easier.

I am at a point in my life, creatively, where I am moving beyond natural talent and digging into the difficult work of being an artist. Creating music has changed from layering loops and thinking of cool chord progressions, into thoughtful development of emotional story to shape the sounds and the music. Photography has grown from interesting imagery into storytelling. Filmmaking has evolved from sequencing events and setting up jokes into using imagination to access deep questions of humanity’s interaction with change, success, and disappointment.

I’d recently been using the web more as a social tool. Distance has kept me from the people I care about, and blogs, Facebook, and iChat are rich ways to keep in touch. But in being social online (through the melĂ©e of Facebook friend requests and instant messaging), I found myself being hardened by it. The internet is highly efficient at communication and preservation of information, but it is not an effective social medium. As a social system, the internet promotes the commodification of people that inhabit it. Each person – a “user” – is forced into a uniform, technologically-defined box, devoid of a person’s true nuance and individuality. And I also found that mediation in my closest relationships was running counter to deep, safe interaction.

So, my opinion of the web as a social destination cooled… but I couldn’t kick the idea of having a site.

The internet is good at being a voice-extendar. It’s a flat publishing system, good at making boxes to put stuff in. In designing something for myself, my desire for uniqueness ran against the problem that most systems are designed around the now-traditional concept of “blogging.” Blogging has become largely about the regurgitation of information in the form of textual commentary, quotation and criticism. I already knew I wanted to stay outside the net’s social web, but I still had a desire to build my own soap-box for the things I found beautiful and interesting.

My primary mediums are film, photography, music, and words. I wanted to build a site that reflected all aspects of how I create. Typical blogs are all about the text, and accompanied by all kinds of extra clutter designed to improve Google search ratings and advertising page-hits. I also didn’t want to be locked into the chronological nature of blogs – there’s something about dating posts that makes anything old seem stale and less interesting.

All of this searching led me to clarify why I wanted to publish online. It’s not to be ranked on Google, to make money, for acclaim, to be known, or to get more work as a photographer or a filmmaker. My desire is to bring to light beautiful and interesting things from my world (whether found or original) so that whoever happens across this site will have their story enriched by their visit.

Once I understood that theme, accomplishing the final design was relatively easy. In a matter of days I rebuilt the site from scratch into the form you see now. It’s an example of how in my life, in my stories, in my screenwriting and directing, I’m learning that taking time to know the theme of things clarifies the action required and enriches the story.

An introduction…

A long road has led to the launch of this site… you could call it my own little online existential crisis. This site grew from a blog, to a website, to an internet hub, to a centre for world peace… to the anti-blog that it has become. The coding, multiple redesigns, online experimentation – all were in search of a theme.

There is a simple thread running through everything on this site, from the design to the content: to clearly, simply bring to light things that are beautiful and unique.

A few details about me are here in the about page, yanked from the preview site. Most likely you will want to subscribe to the feed, the easiest way to keep up to date.

In a world where less is more, you can expect less from me. Let’s see where this takes us…