Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Meet me in St. Louis

Echo Lake, a film on which I was DP (& a Producer), continues to kick butt. It has most recently been selected to the St. Louis International Film Festival.

Congratulations to our Director, Jody, our star, Sam, as well as the rest of us slightly less important, but still pretty cool people.

TV Series in Europe

In an attempt to be fancier and more modern with my work, I will now tell this blog what it is I am up to.

Dear Blog,

I am currently in Europe shooting a TV show. Not just any TV show, mind you, but a half-hour historical comedy set in medieval times. The show is called Skanderbeg and is filming in Albania.

For those of you like me who wouldn't count geography as one of your strong suits, Albania is sort of located in between Greece and Italy. The food style and level of deliciosity™ would support that fact, which has made it difficult for me to maintain my weight. The last time I shot a project in Europe, I put on a great deal of weight, so I am working hard not to let that happen this time around. The Health app* on my iPhone tells me I'm raking in Steps by the dozen, so hopefully I'm safe. However, we're just over a week into a 5 week shoot, so there is much room left for error.

I have been here for a month and have had too many adventures to tell any thorough tales, so I will simply say that we are attempting to do something very special here. Our director's goal is no less than creating the greatest TV show in Albania's history and my side goal (after helping him achieve his goal) is to make the greatest looking show in the country's history. We may just be on the right track.

For now they have asked us not to share too many images from the show, so instead I will share something significantly more boring: A Lighting Map.

My crew (in both Camera and G&E) is way understaffed and very short on equipment, but boy are they nice. The G&E crew doesn't speak much English, so when they are available, my AC and AD serve as translators. When they aren't around, I summon the power of expressive hand gestures and sound effects created with my mouth to communicating with greater and greater efficiency. That's one of the reasons these maps are important.

There are many things to discuss, but for now I must finish my Raki (an Albanian staple) and prepare for another day of genius-making. Thanks for listening, Blog.

- Andy Rydzewski

*If you have met me in the last 6 months and have had a conversation longer than 10 minutes with me, it is likely that I have brought up "getting my steps." It is my favorite and should be your favorite, too. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Echo Lake- A thanks to Birns & Sawyer

Echo Lake, a feature film on which I was Cinematographer and a Producer, premieres this week at the Dances with Films Film Festival in Hollywood. In anticipation of the premiere, I wanted to write a few words about Birns & Sawyer, without whom we would not have been able to accomplish what we did on this film.

I met Michael Rogers at Cinegear in 2013. Like the rest of the nerds, I was wandering around, salivating at all the many new film toys being displayed. At some point I noticed a slim looking van parked at the Birns & Sawyer booth. I wandered in and discovered it was tightly packaged One Ton Grip Truck. I was intrigued.

Michael approached me and we quickly hit it off and started discussing the state of Production Shrinkage in the industry. In the low budget film world, budgets are shrinking, but gear is getting smaller & lighter. Crew sizes are shrinking, but lights are becoming more flexible and need lower power. There is good with the bad and bad with the good. However, Michael and I were focused on the good. New film tech was making possible now what would have been impossible only a handful of years ago. In addition, he seemed to share my spirit of experimentation and approach- which was pretty much, "Get out there and see what you can do."

I was in pre-production on Echo Lake at the time and invited Michael to experiment with me in designing a different kind of film package. We didn't have much money, but he was eager to work with me in creating a mini-feature film grip & lighting package built for mountain production. I told him that I wanted to be able to shoot in the middle of nowhere, without generators, and still be able to light. He didn't blink.

After several tests, discussion, dozens of emails and plenty of stop-ins at Birns & Sawyer, we put together a small package built entirely of LEDs. At the time, LEDs were new to the film world and Michael and the crew at Birns & Sawyer were on the front edge of the technology. They rewired gear so that we could attach batteries. They stripped the Sprinter Van down to its essentials so we could fit in a Dolly, several lights, batteries and whatever else we might need in the middle of the woods with what essentially boiled down to a 4 man crew.

It was a physically demanding shoot and perhaps one day I'll tell some tales (the Cindercone hike that almost killed us all!). For now, I wanted to extend my thanks to the amazing team over at Birns & Sawyer. Thank you for experimenting with me.