Sometimes you seek out a specialty, sometimes the specialty finds you. That has been the case with Mark and food & beverage photography. Over the years, he has been called on to do this appetizing work for both editorial and advertising clients. Being a bit of a foodie himself, it was a natural fit. Mark has experience shooting in the studio and on location in restaurants, bars, and kitchens for clients ranging from Darryl’s Wood Fired Grill to Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
Take a moment to unwind with this video postcard from Mark’s winter trip to the Outer Banks…
Standing in a field prepping gear, a cast and crew of 25 or so people each doing their part, and the AD is asking how long until you are ready to roll… not to mention the pressure to live up to the expectations of the director / script-writer. The first shot is a simple camera on slider move of a tombstone in a field, with a 200mm lens – no problem. But the next shot is a Steadicam shot walking backwards in tall clumpy grass. Is everything ready, have you done your homework, read the script enough, thought through all the gear, can you see the film in your head yet? You know they will call action in a few minutes, are you ready to roll?
That day was October 25th, the first day of a four-day shoot for the principle photography on a short film titled Someday. Written and directed by Stephen van Vuuren, produced by SV2 Studios and Mark Wagoner Productions, I served as the director of photography. My main goals were to not shoot a lame-looking film, to tell the story, and to have fun.
While we are still shooting a few shots this winter, the bulk of the shoot was completed in four days last October. Now we are deep into dealing with the footage, the edit in the early stages with Stephen, and I am working out the post-production details for the look and color of the film. The overall look was laid out in the hours (really more like days) that Stephen and I spent discussing and looking at films.
Working on this element is as exciting for me as shooting – very different, but exciting. The shoot is full of nervous energy and emotions, lots of people working for the final goal of producing the film, but when I am working on the color grading, especially at the design stage that I am in now, it is very different. I am sitting at my computer, thinking about the emotion of the shots, how far too push the color without it becoming too heavy-handed. Very quiet and delicate business, it is a bit like meditation for me. After the edit is done and these decisions are made, and we are applying all of the grading to the final film, matching shots, correcting for lens color and the like – that is more like work.
Our design and pre-production process took nearly nine months. While Stephen was tightening the script, our art department was busy with some of the larger tasks that we knew would make it into the final draft. One of the most interesting was the collection of 50,000 sheets of office paper to populate the desk of the character Grim Man (and they also found a home for the paper after the shoot.) We were all busy with location scouting in addition to our other duties for the film. During the casting we had 2,000 people submit headshots, and we auditioned 200 people for the seven roles. By September 1, 2012, we had pushed our original shoot dates back a few weeks. The role of David was proving difficult to cast, and one of the primary locations was proving tough to nail down. But the film was coming to life, full of energy, and the pressure was mounting.
During those last few weeks before the shoot, I was busy with tech scouts, lenses, batteries and all of the things that require attention before a shoot. We were pushing into some new waters for me on this project, remote wireless video monitoring, using the Canon C300 in five different configurations, but the most interesting of all was the plan for recording the song that appears in the film. After much deliberation and discussion, Stephen suggested we record the actors singing on the set live – yes, live. Stephen had seen the teaser for Les Miserables directed by Tom Hooper, and after passing around the video to the main team members, it was decided that we would use this concept to shoot the song in the film.
This was a really big deal, as it meant having a keyboardist on set, a way for the actors to hear music in their ears, the keyboard player had to be able to hear the actors, and we had to record all of the vocals, as well as a sync track for the keyboard, while filming the whole thing. Now in case you do not know, we did not have multi-million dollar budget, a sound crew 3 times bigger than a normal film shoot and weeks to shoot. We had a a sound budget in the hundreds of dollars, a small but dedicated crew, actors and a music director who were willing to put themselves out on a limb and believe that this could be done, and only a few weeks to figure out how to pull it off. It was crazy to attempt on a project like this. I can only say I am glad we did!
The thing that I really like about this type of project is that it becomes an exploration space and a proving ground. It is a chance to test out new processes and artistic thoughts, and then we are able to bring this research to our commercial productions.
For the film, we had assembled a great cast and production crew. Some of the regulars that I work with were there, including Jill Davis as script supervisor and Christian Parsons as gaffer and camera operator, plus we brought along some new folks that really helped bring this show together.
With the post production process underway, it’s deeply satisfying to see that this goal is being achieved, beyond our high expectations. Every frame bears the mark of multiple creative contributors to the film – art, cast, production design, sound. But ultimately film is a visual medium, and I believe the hard work Stephen and I put into Someday will result in great addition to our body of work.
When I was but a wee lad, my Grandmother Tuck had a silver metallic tree with pink lights on it. As I recall at the time, I thought it was all a bit strange and not Christmas-y enough for my taste. However, my guess now is that she thought it very up-to-date, or else maybe she just liked it. I think the latter is probably the case, as she was not a fashion follower.
Now suffice it to say that I loved my Grandmother dearly, and she loved me “a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” How could there be more? But the metal tree was always bit of a mystery, and after a time she went back to a more traditional Christmas tree, a pine of some type.
In the last few years I have found myself thinking about this tree, wondering about her choice, remembering the color and the sparkle of the needles. As I have become more interested in things mid-century, I have been wanting to bring this tree back to life – well, you know what I mean. So I was on a quest.
With only Lynn and myself at home this Christmas, we had planned to tone down a bit, we didn’t plan on putting up a tree at all, until I hatched the idea of the silver tree with pink lights. After an intense search I realized that the silver metal trees were not so easy to find anymore, and I wanted a vintage one in reasonable shape. Nothing was turning up. A few places had them, but only for their in-store props. So after some thought I decided we would do an homage to the tree. At Target I found a modern silver tree and pinkish LED’s. For now it will have to do, but the search goes on…
Do you have any memories of quirky holiday decorations? Maybe family traditions gone awry? Share your stories with us!
Wishing you & yours a happy holiday season!
These photos are just a few samples of a new technique that Mark has been experimenting with in recent months. It’s an in-camera process that gives images surreal, dream-like quality, and it can be used for still photography, as well as for film & video. Our recent short film “esperanza” is an example of this technique in motion. The images above were created on the job for clients, including AAA, UNC Greensboro, and the Eastern Music Festival. We are intrigued by the potential this style offers, and we can’t wait to see who wants to try it next!
It’s been a busy fall for us here at Mark Wagoner Productions! In addition to the projects mentioned above, we’ve had some exciting collaborations in recent weeks including video shoots for HGTV, Stainmaster Carpets (screen grab above), Sealy and Wells Fargo. Check out our Facebook page to keep up to date on all the fun, or give us a call to discuss your next project!
Early in June I received a phone call from my good friend Tom Philion, the CEO of United Arts Council for Greater Greensboro. Tom and I have worked on many projects over the last dozen years or so, always to good end. This call started a conversation about promotion ideas for the up-coming 17 Days arts event in Greensboro. After some thought, I came up with an idea for a stop-motion piece with a story of a stagehand who, after making a blunder, saves the day. Tom was intrigued enough to give me the go ahead, so I started assembling a team to produce the 30 second film “Set the Stage“.
After a call to fellow filmmakers Stephen and Marie van Vuuren, I had the start of what would become a fantastic and enthusiastic team of stop-motionists (I think I may have coined a new term). The team was rounded out with Emma Hadley, an art student at VCU, Daniel Irons, a film student at SCAD, and Lynn Wagoner. I am grateful for all of their help, this project would not have come to life without them.
With Marie as lead set designer helped by Lynn, Emma doing the design and construction of the props and figures, Stephen working out timing and technical issues during the shoot, and Daniel handling the camera and lights, we had all of the aspects of producing a lovely project. Now keep in mind – this is a lot of work for six people! We had a total of almost 30 days of work – from planning to editing – by the time it was completed.
My inspiration for the story comes from an experience that I had many years ago while working as a stagehand on a fashion show. The pre-set was for the front rag to be in the up postion, set parts in place and lighting set for the first scene. Perhaps five minutes before showtime, with a full house, I needed to be in position in the wings stage right, but I was in the wings stage left. The only way to get to where I was supposed to be was to walk right across the stage, in full view of the audience. I was halfway across when I realized maybe it would have been better to walk upstage behind the backdrop. I was mortified, but I kept going on with the confidence of a 23-year-old. Of course, I walked right into the director who was waiting in the wings. This experience contributed to my style of directing, which helps keep me calm, even when not all is perfect. Like our animated hero, a figure of notoriety that goes way beyond Greensboro, I went on to help save both the day and my respectability, and I am reminded that we often get a second chance to prove our value.
The set features the number 17 as you would expect, a tip of the hat to our friend Harry Blair and the beautiful Greensboro Oak Leaf design he created around 1985 for the Carolina Theater, and many of the feature performers and art that will appear during the festival.
We all had a hand in the animation. On the opening shot, we had the camera dollying, focus pulling from a chandelier moving up and out of frame, people in the audience sitting down, and the curtains opening. That was the shot with the most different movements, but perhaps not the hardest shot to pull off. We have different answers for that depending on who was the main animator for a given set-up. While on there can always be a bit of tension with the difficulty of some of these shots, everyone had fun is ready to produce another stop-motion soon, well, maybe in a few weeks, or perhaps a month.
This little project started with an invitation to shoot at my friend Mark Hewett’s store, Area. Lynn and I shop there, and we have rented and bought props from Mark for years for the studio. We even shot a print project there once, back when there was money spent on hosiery advertising (that seems like another lifetime!) I knew I wanted to shoot something that took advantage of the great windows upstairs, and had an element of a fashion and lifestyle look to it, but it had to have a story. I did not want to shoot just a collection of pretty pictures.
I was talking to Kelly Swanson from Ink Photography Productions about this, and she was excited to help. We spent a few phone calls and a lunch talking about cast, props, crew, time of day, everything except the lost subject, the story. After a few months of ruminating on this subject, it suddenly became clear in a moment – as these things often do. A story about longing for what might be, or what might have been. It would be the woman’s story with the guy in the supporting, but perhaps not supportive, role.
Also going on at the same time over this past winter was a brewing battle of two new cameras, the Red Scarlett and the Canon C300. Both were announced to much fanfare on November 3rd, 2011, but with no exact delivery time. I was in the market to make a change, and I went back and forth with my excitement and decision. I worked on this every night, reading every test and comment I could find. Finally by mid-February, I had made a decision to buy the Canon C300, and as predicted, this has proved to be the correct move on my part. It shoots a wonderful image, with tons of latitude, and it is great in low light. We have already shot more than a dozen projects with this camera.
I have been thinking about a technique for manipulating the image on a motion picture camera that would feel very real, as in not done in post, and has a emotional feeling associated with it. I have tested many filters, lenses, mirrors and various objects to achieve what I saw happening in the head upon my shoulders, but nothing seemed to work. At last this camera plus some very old lenses gave me the combination to make this imagined image come to life. I am really excited about this look, and what’s more, I can achieve it with still photography, too. A few clients have already asked me to create stills and video using this look.
(Please call me to find out more or how we can use this look for your project!)
So, back to the story of the story, longing is a theme that appears in many artistic forms, perhaps I am most knowledgeable with the subject from the writing of the Sufi poet Rumi. I decided, (after much mental tennis), that the film should end the way life often does, with some degree of uncertainty. Endings do not always end like the movies, I doubt I’m the only one who feels this. The way you see the ending may have to do with how you look at life, or then perhaps not. I go back and forth less now than i did during the edit, but even I still have mixed feelings about it.
Kudos to everyone who helped make this a reality, Kelly and Lauren at Ink, Mark at Area, Cheri Osterholt and Kent Chilton for opening themselves up for a great performance, Stephan Weed for all the hard work on shoot day, Stephen van Vuuren of SV2 Studio for help on set and on story building, Jill Davis for tons of post production support, and to Lynn for listening to me talk about this for months and her support on getting out and shooting it.
Hope you enjoy it.
We are so excited and humbled to announce that Mark received four Telly Awards for his work as a Director and DP during the last year! You can see the award winning spots by clicking the links below:
We want to thank our good friends and colleagues who worked with us on these projects. They were all team efforts!
In our last post, we offered a giveaway of 2 lbs of coffee from Carolina Coffee Roasting, and a delicious tin of cookies from Simply Scrumptious. And now, we announce our winner… chosen by a random number generator… Chris Ferguson, Art Director at Pace Communications! Congratulations!
Thank you to everyone who entered! We enjoyed reading about your holiday traditions & memories so much, we just had to share them with everyone. Here are a few of our favorites.
Happy Holidays & Best Wishes for the New Year!
From our winner, Chris Ferguson:
In Venezuela, we make a traditional meal starting in early December – hallacas. They’re like tamales, but wrapped in banana tree leaves and stuffed with a stew made with chicken, pork and beef, as well as raisins, almonds, pickled veggies, bacon…. We made hundreds of these that we’d eat throughout the month until the day the kings arrived (Epiphany in January).
Regardless of your religious preferences, everyone is invited to attend these worship services all over the city of Winston-Salem, in what seems like every Moravian church (of which there are many.) Yes, the minister/pastor delivers a sermon, the choir sings Christmas anthems, but the congregation practically guides the service in their participation in sharing and receiving a cup of hot coffee in a hefty mug, a delicious Moravian Love Feast bun (baked by Old Salem, Dewey’s or local food artisans) and a lighted candle to be held high in exultation of Jesus Christ’s’ birth at the very end of the service. There is an adult choir, a hand bell choir and a children’s choir, all of which deliver sweet hymns that bring Christmas into my heart every year. There is something very special about entering that church, sitting with my family, waving to friends, trying to get my aunt to laugh out loud while she sits and faces the entire congregation that brings merriment to my heart.
It is usually tough to stifle a laugh more than once as my Mother and I sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” since we have our own way of raising our voices at offbeat times. When the buns and coffee are received by all the congregation and choir, we must all sit quietly and wait until the minister takes his first bite or sip and then we may begin our Love feast portion of food. Several people choose to balance their bun on top of their coffee mug to keep their coffee warm prior to partaking of the tasty meal. My boys and I always smile as we wait for buns to topple down the aisle with one sneeze or cough! Miss Mannerly, that my Mother is, usually comments on how one or another person is eating their bun “incorrectly” or started eating prior to the minister’s signal to begin. Oh my gosh, another opportunity for me and my sister to laugh and shake the row of seats in doing so. Mother’s will be Mother’s but church will never be church without a little bit of laughter from MY family!
I have lived out of state several times, once in Boston and another in Chicago, but I always came home for Christmas and attend the Love Feast service with my family as Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the Moravian Love Feast and I will cherish all my memories there for the rest of my life.