Sunday, March 31, 2013

Win a Fiat 500!

A client of mine is running a sweepstakes offering a chance to win a Fiat 500. Technically sweepstakes must allow anyone to enter without purchasing anything so, go for it at: If you know anyone who works with trade show pole and drape products, let them know because their chances of winning are even greater since they can enter multiple  ways.

I built this single web page for Georgia Expo and it has some cool features including a YouTube video in a lightbox, social media links and a form that allows people to enter and also upload photos of them using Georgia Expo products.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Promotional Video for the Psychology Department of Agnes Scott College

My wife is the head of the Psychology Department at Agnes Scott College, a women's college open since the 1880s in the city of Decatur, Georgia. They are currently redesigning their web site and each department was tasked with developing a promotional video. This is a pretty tall order for many people who do not make videos all the time. I offered my services to help my wife out, but I wanted to approach the project from a photographer's point of view.

(UPDATED) See for yourself below or click here to watch it on YouTube if the video does not play for you.

I am not a video professional per se. I consider myself a photographer who is sometimes tasked with making videos. To me, still photos and moving video are worlds apart that require different equipment, techniques and most of all editing time on the back end.

The plan was simple and necessitated by the fact that I would only have about 10 minutes with each ASC student who was going to appear in the video. I would take a variety of still portraits of each student and then make a recording of their prepared statement of "why I like the Psychology Department". To simplify this, I had a mic hooked right into the Canon 5D Mkii that I was using. This kept the recording with the person's images so I could easily combine them later in iMovie. Yep, Apple's consumer video editor.

This approach worked well for several reasons. First of all, I am better at taking portraits than making video so I decided to stick with my strengths. Another reason is that taking portraits can be much faster than making video. The students would have had to memorize their text and multiple takes would have been required to get the perfect performance. That can barely be done in 10 minutes with professional speakers, much less regular folks.

My wife and I wanted there to be a consistent theme throughout the video to tie everything together. I used a picture frame that read "Why I Like Psych" that would appear in every scene. Each student was also named in the video to make it more personal.

The students that participated did an excellent job, and I believe that they show the diversity and independent spirit alive at that school. Agnes Scott College is a unique school, and I got the feeling that the women who go there love it.

A Layman's Review of the 2012 Les Miserables Movie

I am breaking tradition on my blog and writing about something other than photography or graphic design. Today is a review of Les Miserables, the much anticipated movie adaptation of the now classic stage show.

The original stage show came out in 1987 when I was in senior in high school. In those days, I hung out with the drama club... which is about as geeky as the glee club is today. Thankfully, I never got on stage, but I would help with the programs and sets. It was fun to be a part of something like that.

I know I may open myself to ridicule to admit that have I listened to show tunes, but that was the year that Les Mis and the Phantom of the Opera came out... and those productions were some of the best ever put on stage.

Les Mis has been made into multiple movie adaptations, but this is the first one based on the Broadway musical. Like everyone else who loved the stage productions, I had my reservations about the actors cast for the lead roles. Would they deliver the role and singing performance the material deserved? The short answers are "yes"and "mostly"... depending on which actor you are talking about.

The producers had an interesting problem to consider when casting. They could have either picked great singers who were might have been relative unknowns or find movie stars who could sing... not always an easy thing to do.

Bringing established actors to the project brings star power which may account for some box office success, but it could backfire if the singers don't hit the notes. The decision to live record all the singing was an artistic choice to bring the story to life, and give it the emotional gravitas that love, death, sacrifice, revolution and redemption requires.

The acting was excellent by just about every member of the cast. The main characters really dug into their roles and were not afraid to completely lose emotional control... to look ugly, vulnerable or "human". A pet peeve of mine is seeing an actor's bag of tricks (Merrill Streep... I'm calling you out). When I see this behavior, I am pulled out of the story and back to reality of a crowded theater. The magic spell is broken.

On the other hand, when an actor is present, committed and completely in the moment, I lose myself in the story. That moment for me in this movie was the "I Dreamed a Dream" scene sung by Anne Hathaway. This is the song they used in teasers leading up to opening day... and with good reason. Her performance was so true, emotional and gut wrenching that it made up for any nit picks I might have had about the rest of the film. It was the bravest performance I have seen on film...and this is where the value of the live singing pays off. Here choices in timing, inflection, emphasis and all those other things I am not qualified to talk about were Oscar worthy (update... this has since come true).

Hugh Jackman turned in the lion-share's of sung dialog.... though with mixed success. If I am being 100% honest, his voice at times irked me. My wife mentioned it too. Perhaps we are just too used to the 1987 studio version? When I got home, I listened to the 2 versions back to back and while they are simliar in pitch, there is a unique tone that is missing for me. His acting, however, made up for any vocal shortcomings with a load of charisma. I can forgive some of the awkward pauses, lost tunes and a few "just spoken words". He should be commended for his efforts.

Russell Crowe is a favorite actor of mine and supposedly a singer in a band, and I can forgive his lack of a trained voice too. He tried the best he could. Some of the long extended notes were not going to be possible for him. It did not spoil my enjoyment of the movie, but it made me wonder who else could have played some of these roles...

In the end, I think the director made the right decision to hire film actors instead of stage actors. To me the 2 different arenas require different skills. Modern movie acting requires subtlety and stage shows larger overt actions that can be seen from the back of a theater. The lack of subtlety shows up in moments like Apennine's "On My Own". This showstopper usually brings the house down, but this case it felt weak in comparison to more nuanced emotional performances by other actors.

The surprise for me was to see Sasha Baron-Cohen (aka Borat) play the devious inn-keeper, Thenardier. He was great despite the fact that half the time he switched in an out of a French accent in mid-song. Actually, most of the cast had English accents thought the story was in France. Hmmm.... How weird is that?

In a neat cameo, the original actor to play Jean Val-Jean, Colm Wilkinson, made an appearance as the bishop. That was a nice touch, though I did not recognize his voice at all.

Make no mistake. This is a long, emotionally taxing movie where practically every word is sung. If that bothers you, don't see it. You should really think of it more as a Broadway style show with amazing living sets, no intermission... and only costs $10 (or less if you rent it). Quite a bargain when you think about it.