David (Ben Schwartz) and his deceased travel companion
Some people travel light, and others lug piles of heavy suitcases to the airport. In the short film I’m a Mitzvah, available to watch on Vimeo, we see a more unconventional baggage item: a dead body. Directed by Ben Berman and lens’d by Sing Howe Yam, this dark comedy offers a sincere, unflinching look at the grieving process.
Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies) stars as David, a young man coping with his own feelings of loss and loneliness after one of his close friends passes away. Stranded in the dusty depths of rural Mexico, David finds himself fighting language barriers and delayed flights as he undertakes the task of escorting his friend’s body back to the United States. We’re kept in the dark about the details of his friend’s death, but, to us, it feels better not knowing the cause. It allows us to focus on the minutia of David’s emotions as we share the experience with him.
I’m a Mitzvah is a beautifully shot, introspective gem of a short film, and was an official selection at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Cinematographer Sing Howe Yam took the time to talk with us about working on the project.
David and a morgue employee (Erick Chavarria) share a quiet moment
How did you first get involved with I’m a Mitzvah? My good pals, directors Josh Forbes and Hank Friedmann, recommended me over to director Ben Berman. We met and talked about the script, and we definitely had the same taste in mind for his film.
My friends at Zacuto took some flack last year as they showed documentary coverage of a Camera Evaluation project they organized and sponsored under the supervision of longtime DCS member, the renowned DP, Bruce Logan, ASC. The program was set up as a “blind” test, where a particular shot was done with a variety of cameras, then projected back to back without revealing which camera had shot which takes. The cameras ran the gamut of cost and quality, from a Sony F65, Alexa, RED Epic, as well as Canon and Panasonic HDSLRs; interestingly, they also included an iPhone.
Different Cinematographers who had experience and were comfortable working with the various cameras were allowed to do a little relighting for each shot. The idea was to help compensate for any weaknesses of the lesser quality cameras which generally needed more exposure and less contrast in the lighting. Detailed notes were taken of the additional resources needed to make the best looking shots, both on the set and in color correction. According to the documentary’s Producers, Zacuto’s Steve Weiss and Jens Bogehegn, the test was designed to show that it was the talent of the Cinematographer that really determined the quality of footage, more so than the tools they were using.
Last year, cinematographer Rob McLachlan, ASC, CSC lens’d two of the most talked about episodes of the coveted HBO series Game of Thrones. One being The Rains of Castamere, aka the “Red Wedding.” The other being the finale, Mhsya, which bestowed him his first Emmy nomination during his well-respected 35 year career. Taking the time out of his busy schedule, Rob sat down with S&P to talk shop and let us in on season 4.
DP Rob McLachlan, ASC, CSC
First nom. Must be a nice feeling. Do you see it any differently than some of the ASC or CSC noms in the past? I have been at this for quite a while. I never really expected to get an Emmy nom. So many things need to align for that to happen. Obviously the cinematography needs to be good, but the show needs to be really good AND hopefully high profile.
The truth is, I think the work I was doing in the past was just as good as many other shows. In fact, I think my work on Millennium in the mid-90’s for instance was better and more original. In the long run, it was certainly more influential, but that show wasn’t the hit say, X-Files was and people didn’t see the work. I guess after 360 episodes of TV and 2 dozen TV movies my number finally came up.
This first rule of House of Cards: No handheld camera work. The second: No steadicam. The third: No zoom lenses. That didn’t slow down Danish cinematographer Eigil Bryld to team up with director David Fincher on the politically charged drama from Netflix. Ticketed with nine Emmy nominations, one being outstanding cinematography in a single-camera series, the show developed by Kevin Spacey, Fincher, and Beau Willimon frames itself in the back dealings of policy, power, and manipulation.
After reading the first four episodes, Eigil was hooked. “I was immediately intrigued by the project. It was unique and interesting in so many ways. Knowing Kevin Spacey was going to play the lead (Francis Underwood), he can be very charming. He can be this charming, seductive beacon everyone looks up to one moment and then easily switch to someone sinister and evil. He’s like a chameleon. Even Robin Wright’s character Claire Underwood isn’t the traditional woman you see in shows today. She’s just as or even more threatening than Francis. The script had such an appealing dynamic I couldn’t pass up.”
Mike (Billy Gardell) prepares to spoil Molly (Melissa McCarthy) on her birthday
Now in prep for its fourth season, the CBS hit sitcom Mike & Molly is lens’d by one of the premiere glass men in the business. Before becoming a respected cinematographer, Gary moved up the chain in a traditional route you normally don’t encounter these days within younger crew.
Starting out as a camera assistant on the TV series The A-Team, he then jumped to shows like Magnum P.I. and MacGyver. Yes, MacGyver – the same show the Internet Meme’d and SNL enshrined with MacGruber. (Still waiting for a sequel, Forte. Get on it. Maybe hire Gary?)
He soon found himself as a camera operator dollying around on shows like Norm, Frasier, Friends and shot over 150 episodes of Will & Grace before the operator turned full-time DP in 2005 on the same show. Now blanketed with his fourth Emmy nomination, Gary sat down with us to talk about the multi-cam show that isn’t going unnoticed.
Shot on stage 24 of Warner Bros. Studios, the series follows Mike Biggs (Billy Gardell), a Chicago Police officer and elementary teacher Molly Flynn-Biggs (Melissa McCarthy) and their happy, yet sometimes dysfunctional relationship. “The cast really brings this show to life,” says Baum. “To have someone like Melissa McCarthy go off and do a film, and then come back to stage – she’s very special.”
Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, & Cornelius Vanderbilt
The American Dream. Many of us chase it. But what is it? Can you name yours? In the insightful series, The Men Who Built America, Executive Producer Stephen David and the HISTORY Channel teamed to chronicle the lives of some of America’s most visionary men and their American Dreams.
Part documentary. Part narrative. The four, two hour specials ‘delorean’ us to the 18th and early 19th centuries when pioneers Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford built their legendary empires. The location heavy series directed by Patrick Reams and lens’d by cinematographer Rick Lopez had roughly five days per hour of show to complete the project.
TMWBA was the first collaboration between the director and cinematographer. “Stephen David was really the mastermind behind this series,” says Lopez. “They contacted my agent to set up an interview, but at that time it was for the trailer they intended to use to pitch the show. I ended up not getting that job, but after it went to series, Stephen called and wanted me to come on board. It was the only circumstance I had in my career where I was hired on before the director. When I met with Patrick, we really saw eye to eye on the project so we both knew the collaboration was going to work.”
Directed by Danny Madden, Euphonia follows a bored, K-Mart employed high school boy, Will (Will Madden) who for some reason or another hates every minute of his white, suburban existence. The film, which was well done, is a must watch for any sound recordist or designer and that’s why we’re so interested in it here at S&P.
As the minutes pass closer to the all conclusive fade to black, Will’s days of hanging out with his friend (Bejnamin Papac) and trading notes with a female classmate (Maria Decotis) become bleak. So he turns to what any teenage boy does to fill his loneliness-porn (kidding, but just a suggestion, Will). Nope, he actually buys a sound recording device, a Zoom H2, to be exact and starts to capture the audio world around him. Now consumed with his newly found obsession it eventually becomes so intense it slips him into a world of discontent.
Shot outside Atlanta, Georgia with a near zero dollar budget, Danny Madden, created a plot through sound imagery that’s engrained with inventiveness and passion. Though Will is center stage, the real characters are the sounds that begin to take over his life. Besides directing and writing the project, Madden also cut the film and looked to Steve Bissinger for additional sound re-recording and theory. We were able to sit down with the two storytellers to see what it was like creating a character we could only hear.