Tag Archives: Cinematography

Inspirations (Part 2)

As times change, so do the sources of our inspiration. But some things are timeless…

“The Making of Fantastic Mr. Fox”

You reference back to them for wisdom, for guidance, for new ways of thinking.

Like an overflowing bookshelf, your mind pulls tidbits of information from your favorite sources.

Remembering childhood friends,

“The Art of Tim Burton”

and mentors who’ve become masters.

Whether on hand or not, they’ve become part of you; a cherished tool on your utility belt of creativity. What are your inspirations?


Innovating with the iPad

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” ~Steve Jobs

A beautiful merging of design aesthetic & technologic advancement

The world of production is an ever-changing environment.

In a constant state of flux, the period between an “industry standard” practice and a “revolutionary” one is diminishing. As in the medical field, technological innovations rapidly shift the way we work.

The incredibly useful Movie Slate App

Ethan Borden, Cinematographer & VP of Gradient, has found his workflow radically altered using the iPad:

“With the Movie Slate App, it makes us probably ten times faster in post-production. It does a shot log which I can send out with an HTML or as a Final Cut XML document, and saves time and keeps us more organized because we’re switching from paper to digital.

We also have a Wireless Monitor App which allows us to connect to a computer that has the camera plugged in. It lets us control the camera and look at what’s being seen through the lense with a live view. We’re also able to walk around wherever on set and look at what’s being shot on camera. We see whats being seen through the DSLR.

I use the iPad 2 for a lot of workflow stuff on other projects as well: websites, Facebook, uploading photos that I’ve just taken on set.”

“In Post we use it a lot for labeling footage. It’s easy to make notes on set and then have our editor be able to refer to those while he’s working. It keeps everything centralized so that there aren’t 5 pieces of paper flying around with separate notes.”

Nathanael Sams has found his workflow in Post-Production streamlined as well:

“The Slate makes all the difference because we work with separate cameras and separate audio (Zoom H4N). What can be a daunting task of syncing up video and audio is a lot more feasible and automatic when you have a slate that beeps, because the program automatically syncs it up for you. That saves hours of time of manually going in and making sure it’s synced up.”

We aren’t shy in expressing our love of Apple products, and the iPad is no exception. It has quickly become invaluable on set, off set, and within our workflow.

Make It Happen

“I was directing before I knew it was called that.” -Guillermo Del Toro

Rebecca Noles:

      “I’ve been directing & producing since I was 10 years old and putting on Christmas pageants in the living room for my parents. I’ve learned a few things along the way and am offering them as advice to anyone interested or pursuing either field. I do, however, reserve the right to change this advice at any time in future blogs.


Directing is about need: What the script needs, what the crew needs, what the audience needs.

As a director, your only job is to acknowledge all the different needs within each department and guide them toward a finished product. Sometimes all the Director of Photography needs is to feel like he has permission to try something new. There are times an actor needs the director to take his/her eyes off the monitor and simply have a conversation with them. Sometimes an editor just needs you to get out of their way.

Acknowledge the need and work to fulfill it.


Being a producer at a small production company can be categorized into three main jobs:

  1. Make sure people have what they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
  2. Make sure everyone knows where & when to show up.
  3. Make sure the cast & crew members eat, sleep, are groomed, and stay caffeinated.
Being a producer is about serving the people who make the project happen.”

The 84th Academy Awards

“Life. Camera. Action.”

In honor of the 2012 Academy Awards, we managed to collectively watch every film nominated for Best Picture.

“I think it was a year of movies where most of the components were really good, but there was one that didn’t live up to the rest, so you’re just left not satisfied.” ~Alisha Noles, Production Designer

These mini reviews explore the aspects that we know best, be it the acting, directing, design, or music.


My Week with Marilyn: No film in recent years has been able to capture the inner workings of a star as brilliantly as this film. Williams’ manages to capture the essence of the icon while simultaneously developing her own character. She deserves her nomination and could easily take the prize. It’s disappointing the film is not more represented at this years big night.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close: This film was in fact extremely loud and incredibly close to being wonderful. It has Stephen Daldry’s overly dramatic style and lack of restraint all throughout. Under another director the film may have been able to reach it’s potential. That said, Tome Hanks, Sandra Bullock, and Max von Sydow offer beautiful and heartfelt performances.

The Help: Flawless acting compliment a polished screenplay with moments both moving, and unforgettable. You’ll gain a new respect for Emma Stone as an actress, and see why Viola Davis more than deserves her Oscar nomination.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Not since Heath Ledger as The Joker has there been a performance so captivating as Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander. A thrilling, if dense, mystery with unmatched cinematography & editing, though the screenplay fails to capture the intensity of the novel’s end revelations.

Moneyball: The sound design was subtle and added a unique feel to the movie. Their use of silence created dramatic moments in which the audience could respond emotionally to the situation, especially when the drama was at it’s highest point. Two Thumbs Up!

War Horse: The music was written by John Williams and you could tell without looking it up on IMDB. It was as if he took the score from “The Patriot” and mixed it with the score of “Jurassic Park”. In all honesty, the score just felt lazy.


Hugo: Visually it delivered exactly as hoped. There is a theatrical quality to the design of the film that supports the whimsical storyline. The attention to detail and historically accurate information provided a lot of room for the production design to play with reality.

Midnight in Paris: It was surprising to see this nominated for “Art Direction”. Although the storyline was refreshing, the design of the film did not deliver – ultimately leaving you dissatisfied with flat, obvious design decisions that were nothing more than average.

Winnie the Pooh: You’ll love the simplicity of this movie, and how they stuck to the true nature of the original cartoon. From a Graphic Design perspective, the way they used & interacted with typography was also really interesting. Honestly why wasn’t this nominated?!

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: This was an incredibly stunning film; the cinematography was absolutely gorgeous, and each shot regardless of length was beautiful to look at. It should be every cinematographers goal to make something that inspired for the big screen.

The Descendants: A very satisfying movie, with every element of it done perfectly. The cinematography was simple but amazing and fit for what the movie was. The Director of Photography knew how to use restraint in order to drive the story forward. One of the best films of the year.


The Artist: In the wrong hands this black & white, silent, and analogue film may have relied on its “artsy” attributes to get by, but it doesn’t. The “old style” film making moves the thoughtful plot and well rounded characters forward in a way that modern film techniques could not have done. A truly enjoyable film.

The Tree of Life: It was a really pretty movie, and actually certain shots looked straight out of National Geographic. But the story felt really disjointed, with random shots of random things placed sporadically. At one point, there’s dinosaurs…dinosaurs. It felt artsy on purpose. There are some truly beautiful interactions between the main family, but overall, it lacked focus.

Picture Perfect

“A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet.”
~Orson Welles

I walk over to Nathanael, who is sitting at his desktop computer. He’s going through footage recently shot and sent by Ethan, and is currently on the phone with him. He’s laughing because on the other side of the phone, Ethan is doubting the quality of the shots. But as I look at them, I am amazed at the quality. They are for a campaign highlighting the beauty of Gresham, and I think to myself that no one could’ve done a better job. We all occasionally get a certain apprehension when it comes to sharing work with each other, mostly because we all hold one another to a certain standard that is constantly rising. This makes for a strong motivator in growing, but in this case, Ethan’s skepticism is misplaced.

His eyes see things always as if through a lens, and working alongside him is an interesting thing. He explains to me the setup of where he is going to shoot, and my uncertainty goes out the door as soon as he lets me see the playback. I wanted to interview him to gain some insight into his process, and so sat down with him one sunny October afternoon…

(David): What are a few movies whose cinematography inspires you?

(Ethan): “No Country for Old Men” because the landscape shots are absolutely gorgeous. They gave a really good sense of loneliness. I love the look of “Book of Eli” and “The Social Network”, both have great lighting and the DP work is just awesome. And I know this sounds weird, but the camera movements in “Avatar” just blew my mind.

(D): Which Epicsode has been your favorite to shoot?

(E): “A Chalk to Remember” because it was just a fun shoot. I got to be really creative with how I filmed it and the natural lighting was perfect.

(D): Tell me about a shoot where you had to think “outside the box” in some way.

(E): I went out and shot some B-roll for a recent campaign and was having a really difficult time finding a good location that was working for me. So I decided to just start driving to random places I had never been to and listened to some classic rock and just got my mind off things. And I ended up finding this little creek that was just stunningly beautiful and ended up discovering some great shots of the creek, clouds and other things in the environment.

(D): Is there a certain process to your work? Or do you tend to do better when it’s more on the spot style?

(E): See, on the spot stuff is fun on certain projects. I prefer not to do that though, but every time I do something I learn new things that I can take over to the next shoot. But when I plan what type of look I’m going for and what I would need to bring, it usually is a lot better.

Madam President & Mr. VP

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” ~John Quincy Adams

Recently I sat down with Gradient’s President Rebecca Noles and Vice President Ethan Borden to ask them a few simple questions. As I’ve said before, we hope to offer you insight to who we are both personally and professionally with this weekly blog.

Rebecca Noles: President of Gradient Productions

1) Five years ago, where did you see yourself in five years?

I thought I was going to be a sports therapist earning money to start my own production company. I was really into physical therapy, I wanted to be the first female trainer in the NFL!

2) What is your job title, in your own words?

Control freak.

3) What are your personal goals for Gradient?

“To take over the entertainment industry.”
(David): “And realistically?” (Rebecca): “To take over the entertainment industry.”

4) What’s been your favorite “Epicsode” so far, and give a brief why?

I really liked the “Making of our first Epicsode” because it really showed a lot of our individual personalities and who we are.

5) What’s been your favorite blog so far?

The first one, “Greatness from small beginnings”. I like remembering where we came from.

6) What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

I don’t have free time. Wait, but if I did, it would be read and travel.

7) Favorite food?

Brown butter hazelnut gorgonzola pasta!

8) What’s your favorite soul song of the 70’s?

Just put whatever Ethan is going to say.

9) What’s one of your favorite memories you have during your time in Gradient?

There was this one meeting we all had and we were talking about what needed to be done that week, and afterwards we all were working on stuff and each person was working within their area and loving it and I remember thinking, “Wow, we were all meant to do this,” and I loved that we were loving what we were doing.

Ethan Borden: Vice President of Gradient Productions

1) Five years ago, where did you see yourself in five years?

I saw myself out of college practicing for a baseball game.

2) What is your job title, in your own words?

*Thinks for a while* Everything camera and computer.

3) What are your personal goals for Gradient?

To have every project we do be at least 10 times better than the last one.

4) Any evil, underlying goals we should know about?

Evil what?! Oh, well, to own 100% of the company and knock off Rebecca…no I’m kidding…don’t write that.

5) What’s been your favorite “Epicsode” so far, and give a brief why?

“Oh Barbara” because it was…I don’t know. Because it was fun doing it with you…ok that’s not what I meant! Just doing it with you and me….no that’s even worse! Ok, just the fact that it was just a “whim of the moment” kind of shoot and it turned out so good.

6) What’s been your favorite blog so far?

The one with the hot dogs in it. That one or the one where I couldn’t remember my favorite movie of 2011 with Leonardo Dicaprio!

7) What do you enjoy doing with your free time?

Learning how to do things with our equipment that I don’t know how to do yet, like different film and lighting techniques.

8. Favorite food?

Fettucini Alfredo with Shrimp

9) What’s your favorite soul song of the 70’s?

“The Joker” by Steve Miller Band

10) What’s one of your favorite memories you have during your time in Gradient?

When Leah (of Silk Espresso) came out during the Judo Jon event and handed us the Telly Award and introduced us all.