Feast of the Sacrifice 2016 (A Second Chance)

Everyone knows second chances seldom come in life. The same rule applies to film making. However, since I'm spending two years in Indonesia, I was able to take two swings at making a short video about the Islamic sacrificial holiday called Idul Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). Making this video for a second time allowed me to see how much I've grown as a film maker during the last year. It also let me make a video closer to what I'd envisioned back in 2015. 

If you haven't seen 2015's Idul Adha video you can see it here. The new version can be found here.

Still image of two goats that were sacrificed during the making of the new video. 

Still image of two goats that were sacrificed during the making of the new video. 

The Reason/A Note on Culture

There are many reasons why I made this video last year and remade it this year. The main reasons were because I wanted to learn more about the holiday, and I wanted to capture the activities on camera so I could share with friends and family back home. Of course some abhor the bloody part, the sacrifices. That can easily be sensationalized, and it's definitely not something to be ignored, but it's actually the smallest aspect of the holiday. The bigger aspects are the reasons why Muslims sacrifice the animals and what they do with the meat afterward.  

Still image of the meat preparation after the sacrifices.

Still image of the meat preparation after the sacrifices.

Another still image of the meat preparation. 

Another still image of the meat preparation. 

Everything is a community effort. Muslims gather in the mosques to pray, they sacrifice the animals together, and they distribute the meat in large groups. I was happy to find out that the meat is donated to people in the community once it is divided up.

2015 vs 2016 Quick Video Comparison

In my opinion, the second version blows the first out of the water. The two versions tell similar stories, but the new one is told in a punchier, more concise way. The photography, editing, pacing, coloring, music/sound, and overall feel is much better in the 2nd version. I'm very happy with of how it turned out.  

Behind the scenes shot of me filming meat preparation.

Behind the scenes shot of me filming meat preparation.

Getting What I Hoped For/Gear

In the first video, I wanted to have the scene in which Abraham and Ishmael are walking through the woods. However, I was still new in my village and hadn't built many relationships in my community. So, finding two people willing to be in that part of my film was impossible at the time.

Still image from the scene with Abraham and Ishmael. Abraham has decided to sacrifice Ishmael for God. 

Still image from the scene with Abraham and Ishmael. Abraham has decided to sacrifice Ishmael for God. 

Flash forward to this year, I now know scores of people in my community and finding actors was much easier. I thought a scene like this would reinforce the story being told during the first interview sequence. I wanted the scene to have a dreamy quality to it, so I shot it with my 10-20mm lens at 10mm. I also shot it at 60fps and slowed the footage down in editing. Additionally, in order to enhance the "dreamy quality" of the scene, the coloring is a bit more stylized than all the other sections of the video. I moved the lift (blacks) a little into the blues and the gain (highlights) into the yellows to give it a more filmic look. 

Still image of Abraham and Ishmael just before Abraham tries to sacrifice his son.

Still image of Abraham and Ishmael just before Abraham tries to sacrifice his son.

Other than the 10-20mm lens, I used the Nikon 35mm f1.8 (52mm equivalent). That has become my go to for run and gun work. I also used the GoPro for the one timelapse in the video.

Final Thoughts

I could go into great detail about all of the other little differences between the two videos, but I think the end results speak for themselves. I will say that it was a blast to make this video both times and I'm glad I got a second chance at it.

Do you think there's something else that could make version 2 even better? I'd love to see your comments, questions, or critiques below in the comment section.

Follow me on Instagram if you aren't already. 

Take care and keep creating.

-Max

A Day in Evi's Life (Team Work)

This was a challenging, rewarding, and fun project to undertake. One of my students, Eviana, agreed to be the subject of my "day in the life" video, which entailed her being interviewed and followed around by my camera for an entire day. We chose to shoot on a Saturday because I don't teach on Saturdays, and thus I could devote my full attention to filming.

If you haven't seen the video yet, I encourage you to watch it here before reading further.

Behind the scenes shot. Grabbing a nice sunset timelapse with the GoPro Hero 4.

Behind the scenes shot. Grabbing a nice sunset timelapse with the GoPro Hero 4.

The Prep Work and Permission

A week before I started filming, Mr. Muhlis, who is my fixer, and I went to Evi's house to ask her mom for permission to make my video. We also went to Evi's Islamic boarding house to ask for permission to shoot there when Evi would be studying. Both Evi's parents and the owners of the boarding house granted me permission, and we all took photos after meeting.

From left to right: Mr. Muhlis, Evi, Max, and Evi's mother.

From left to right: Mr. Muhlis, Evi, Max, and Evi's mother.

From left to right: Mr. Luqman, Max, and Mr, Muhlis.

From left to right: Mr. Luqman, Max, and Mr, Muhlis.

Well in advance of filming, I did some story boarding so I could have an idea of what I wanted the video to look like. Unfortunately, I can't draw very well, but the act of making the storyboard at least got me thinking about what I wanted to capture and what lenses I would use. When it came time to shoot, I was able to think ahead about what I wanted to capture next, which lens I would need, and where I would need to be. It was already in my head.

The Interview

I wanted to have Evi sit away from any walls so I could separate her from the background, create nice bokeh around her, and really focus the audience's attention on her face. Once she was moved away from the walls and windows, there wasn't enough light to make a pleasing image. I don't have a proper light stand yet, so I set up my Aputure Amaran LED light with a couple of books underneath the batteries to keep it upright and then put the whole contraption on a desk. The LED made all the difference.

Behind the scenes shot. If you look closely you can see the LED light attached to the books by orange string. Gotta do what you gotta do!

Behind the scenes shot. If you look closely you can see the LED light attached to the books by orange string. Gotta do what you gotta do!

The Saturday Shoot

I arrived at Evi's house at around four AM. We immediately began with the shot I had story boarded and had been fantasizing about: the silhouette from behind Evi while she's praying. I knew it would be a cool shot to start off with. It's a bold image that draws a viewer in, both because it's a silhouette and because the viewer doesn't know what it is right away.

Still image from the video.

Still image from the video.

I thought I could pull the shot off with my LED, but I wasn't positive. When what I had pictured in my head so many times during the week was being captured by my camera, I got a rush of adrenaline.

Behind the scenes shot inside Evi's prayer room.

Behind the scenes shot inside Evi's prayer room.

A Note On Culture

After getting the shots in Evi's prayer room, I took my gear out so Evi could pray and prepare for her day. I went into the living room with Evi's brother. We chatted about American culture and film making. Shortly thereafter, Evi's mother brought me some noodles, a cup of coffee, and a tin of chocolate wafer snacks.

I intentionally didn't eat breakfast or have coffee before going to Evi's house in anticipation that I would be fed and caffeinated by my hosts. Thank you, Indonesians! You're awesome <3 

I intentionally didn't eat breakfast or have coffee before going to Evi's house in anticipation that I would be fed and caffeinated by my hosts. Thank you, Indonesians! You're awesome <3 

This is the Indonesian hospitality to which I've become accustomed over the past year and a half. The three times I was in Evi's home that day, and the two times in the guest room of Evi's boarding house, my hosts were constantly feeding me and chatting me up. This led to my feeling very comfortable and welcome (and also led to my drinking way too much coffee and eating way too much rice for one day!)

Shooting At School

Getting the shots I wanted was tricky. I wanted to get shots of Evi from in front of her because all of the female students wear hijabs (veils) in my school. So if I shot from the back of the room the whole time, the viewer wouldn't be able to pick Evi out of the group. But when I shot from the front, I was getting in the way of the teacher or becoming a distraction. Despite my feeling like I wasn't getting what I'd hoped for, the footage ended up looking good.

Still image from the video. Where's Evi?

Still image from the video. Where's Evi?

Behind the scenes shot from the front of the class. It's hard to tell because she's looking away, but Evi is the student closest to the camera.

Behind the scenes shot from the front of the class. It's hard to tell because she's looking away, but Evi is the student closest to the camera.

After School: The Boarding House

Evi and I went back to her house while I recorded her en route. Then we parted for a couple hours so she could take a nap. I went back home and put the footage from the morning onto my computer. Six PM came around, and Evi, Mr. Muhlis, and I went to Evi's boarding house. I shot one of Evi's lessons and the final prayer of the day.

Mr. Muhlis and I in the boarding house guest room during one of the student breaks.

Mr. Muhlis and I in the boarding house guest room during one of the student breaks.

Evi was always surrounded by people during shooting. There were times I wanted to have just Evi in the frame. In order to do this, I would record with my camera near something like a door frame or Evi's instructor's black hat. This allowed me to cover up the other people with the foreground object and really focus on Evi. In narrative forms, this technique could be used to show a character as "trapped," but that was not the sentiment I was going for with this video. Like I wrote before, I just wanted the viewer to focus solely on Evi. The two shots below cut very nicely together because Evi's face is almost in the same spot in each shot.

Still image from the video.

Still image from the video.

Still image from the video. 

Still image from the video. 

Shooting with a 75mm focal length. 

Shooting with a 75mm focal length. 

A Note On Lenses

I'm so glad I bought the 35mm and 50mm lenses last summer. These lenses open up to f1.8, which allow me to get a nice, cinematic shallow depth of field. The lenses are also very useful in low light situations like in the last shot of the video.

A still from the last shot of the video. 

A still from the last shot of the video. 

During my first two years of making images, I only had the Nikon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens. If I used that lens in the low light situations presented during this project, I would have had to crank the ISO (the camera's light sensitivity) way high, introducing nasty digital noise into the image, likely rendering the image unusable. With my fast 35mm and 50mm f1.8s, I could keep my ISO at 800 or lower, get good exposures, and keep noise to a minimum.

Final Thoughts

Right now I'm a solo shooter, but that doesn't mean that all the credit for this video goes to me. On the contrary, perhaps only five percent can go to me for coming up with the creative idea and making the images. This project was successful because of the wind I had beneath my wings: the support I had from other people.

I'm insanely grateful to Eviana, her family, her boarding house owners, Mr. Muhlis, and my school for their support. If any of them didn't have my back, the video would have fallen apart.

Have you ever filmed a "day in the life" type of video? How was it different from mine? What could I have done to make this video better? Please leave any comments, suggestions, or questions you have in the space below. I'd love to get your feedback.

Follow me on Instagram if you aren't already. 

Take care and keep creating.

-Max

Valuable Lesson Learned (Indonesian Bus Ride)

There was no plan except to hop on a bus and hope that an itinerant singer would get on and perform. A singer, Samsiah, did get on, and I got some cool footage. While editing my bus and interview footage, I thought about my process and learned a huge lesson.

If you haven't seen the video, I encourage you watch it here before proceeding. 

A still image from a timelapse. I'm waiting for the bus. 

A still image from a timelapse. I'm waiting for the bus. 

My GoPro Hero Silver 4 capturing the timelapse.

My GoPro Hero Silver 4 capturing the timelapse.

As previously mentioned, I had no idea about whether or not I would have a subject to shoot. A few minutes after sitting on the bus with my weapon ready (Nikon), Samsiah got on.

Focusing on shooting. I had my hip jammed up against the back of a seat to try making myself more stable. 

Focusing on shooting. I had my hip jammed up against the back of a seat to try making myself more stable. 

Riding a bus in Indonesia is stressful. The drivers weave in and out of traffic like they're driving a VW Beetle, cutting people off and slamming on the brakes frequently. This makes filming a steady shot challenging. Luckily, the bus I was on was not too crowded and I was able to record Samsiah for about ten minutes. 

A still from the video of Samsiah singing.

A still from the video of Samsiah singing.

After I filmed her performance, I told Samsiah I was making a short video about bus entertainers in Indonesia. I asked her if she would be okay being interviewed for my video. Samsiah was hesitant. She was shy and seemed to wonder why someone would be making a video like mine. I told her it would only take a few minutes and eventually she agreed.

A still image from the video.

A still image from the video.

We got off the bus and sat down in a small eatery at which a few other bus performers were hanging out. There appears to be a small community of them there. Right after getting there, I made my biggest mistake.

I set my camera up and immediately started asking questions. Because she was initially hesitant, I felt like I should get rolling ASAP. Samsiah was answering quietly and with very short answers. Had I thought more about it, I would have ordered some coffee for Samsiah and I. I would have talked to her more without the camera rolling. I should have made her more at ease with the idea of being filmed. 

I ended the interview after five or six minutes. She did start to open up and relax a little at that point, but I was worried about taking more of her time when I said it would only be a few minutes.

Final Thoughts

Both Samsiah's experience being interviewed and my resulting footage of a more relaxed subject would have greatly improved had I taken more time to make Samsiah comfortable. This is a lesson I will never forget. I've read about it before, but I have limited experience actually doing it. Now that I've botched one, I know firsthand the importance of having a subject who's at ease. 

Do you have any similar experiences or tips? Please leave any comments, suggestions, or questions you have in the space below. I'd love to get your feedback.

Follow me on Instagram if you aren't already. 

Take care and keep creating.

-Max

Indonesian Showering (The Mandi)

This is my tribute to the love/hate relationship I have with the shower (mandi) in Indonesia. In the hot afternoon, I love showering because I can cool off. However, ice cold morning showers are not so enjoyable. I made this video so I could share a little “Nugget of Indo” with friends and family back home, and so I could keep my creative muscles strong.

If you haven't already, I encourage you to watch the video before reading further. 

A Rough Start

The first shots I took were in my bathroom. Little did I know that these shots would eventually go to waste.  

A still image from the footage with garbage audio. Image not edited or colored.

A still image from the footage with garbage audio. Image not edited or colored.

While editing, I noticed that the audio from inside the bathroom was terrible. There was tremendous echo, rendering the sound virtually unusable. So, I had to scrap this footage and re-shoot. 

The Look

Check out that bokeh! I kept the camera pretty close for the vlog style shots so that the background would be nice and blurry. Since I wanted a more polished look, I used my Nikon DSLR with the 35mm f1.8 lens. I only use the GoPro for some specialty shots like the panning timelapse and the shots which required the camera to be submerged in water.

Doing this with my Nikon was nerve racking.

Doing this with my Nikon was nerve racking.

I tried to have a wide variety of shots- some static, some dynamic- so that I would have good coverage while editing and so that the video could have a snappy pace. Things got sketchy at a couple points. I don't have a waterproof housing for my DSLR. If some part failed on my tripod, it would be “bye bye, Nikon.” 

Another precarious shot near the water.

Another precarious shot near the water.

You don't need to own a slider to get slider-type shots. Here I used a folded up towel on top of our water basin. It's not as smooth as a legitimate slider, but it helped capture something with a bit more flare than a regular static shot. 

A Note on Culture

Video shooters will always catch people's eye while they're recording footage because humans are naturally curious. This curiosity can feel magnified in Indonesia, especially for shooters from foreign countries like I. We stand out more than a local shooter. If you're shooting here, sometimes people stop and stare at you. Sometimes they step in front of your camera lens (ruining your shot) and ask what you're doing. Making videos is super cool, and even people who aren't shooters know that. It's no wonder that they would be curious about what you're doing. 

A selfie with some locals.

A selfie with some locals.

While I was packing up my gear in the street, a mother and her two kids stopped near where I was and stared at me for a good minute. I was just drinking some water and staring back, wondering how long they would stare at me. The little girl to the right, who I didn't see until she poked her head out from behind her mom, yelled, "What is your name?" I replied and went over to talk to them. We chatted for a minute and I took this photo. As I was about to say goodbye, the little girl who asked me my name, Keiko, asked me to come to her house. I politely declined, of course. It was a good interaction with some curious locals.

Final Thoughts

I had a great time shooting this video. The total time spent shooting was about three or four hours. It took about eight hours total to get it edited and colored the way I wanted.

Please leave any comments, suggestions, or questions you have in the space below. I'd love to get your feedback.

Follow me on Instagram if you aren't already. 

Take care and keep creating.

-Max

Searching For Serenity BTS

I shot the footage for this short in the waning hours of a windy Indonesian afternoon. It took me about an hour to find my shooting groove, but once the ball got rolling I didn't want to stop. Setting out there was no story planned: I just went out to exercise my creative muscles and luckily a simple story emerged. 

The story opens with a busy timelapse as cars rush by the hero's awesome ride. The hero takes off on his bike and is bombarded with all kinds of annoyances from burning trash to streets covered with cars and cows.

Technical Note

You'll notice that in general the hero moves from the left side of the screen to the right. Though there are some exceptions, I had the hero move in this way to signify that he was heading in the right direction. Movie viewers subconsciously consider a character to be moving in a 'correct' or 'good' direction if the character is moving from left to right; vice versa for right to left. Read more on this concept here.

The GoPro captures the 'hero's choice' shot

The GoPro captures the 'hero's choice' shot

The GoPromance continues. I used it for 75 percent of my shots in this piece because it is easy to use while biking.

The hero makes his choice.

The hero makes his choice.

For the shot above, I lined the GoPro up perfectly with where dirt meets pavement, showing that the character has two choices. Once he makes his choice, he's on a fun adventure. Note that there's also a shift in music and camera angle choices.

A small store run out of someone's house.

A small store run out of someone's house.

A Note on Culture

It was extremely hot while I was shooting and I was getting thirsty. Luckily there are small stores everywhere in Indonesian villages. This store was 30 feet from where I got the 'hero's choice' shot. I love Indonesia.

Jerry-rigging at its finest.

Jerry-rigging at its finest.

This project required some jerry-rigging. I wanted to get some fun tracking shots from behind the hero as he's biking. In order to do this, I tied a length of bamboo to my bike rack. Next I wrapped the Joby tripod around the bamboo and my regular tripod and bam! A cheap solution to my problem. The results aren't particularly smooth, but the setup still provided a usable shot.  

The results from the jerry-rigged GoPro.

The results from the jerry-rigged GoPro.

Near the end the hero dismounts and enjoys the peaceful surroundings. After a moment of peace, he flips his bike around and takes off again (heading from right to left now).  

The hero takes in the scenery.

The hero takes in the scenery.

This was a fun little project for me. It took about three hours to shoot and six or seven to edit and color. The project helped me work on my visual storytelling, image composing, and editing skills.  

Please leave any comments, suggestions , or questions you have in the space below. I'd love to get your feedback.

Follow me on Instagram if you aren't already. 

Take care and keep creating.

-Max