Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda
Cathy Merenda

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Happy Holidays from Fox Music 2015

Here we go again.  Another year another Fox Music Holiday Card!  This is the 8th year that I’ve shot an e-card.  The productions keep getting bigger and “hopefully” better.  Actually, last year was a huge production that took about 2 months to complete.   This year was different but still a big project.

So I wanted to do slow motion.  I really wanted to get a Phantom Miro camera and shoot at 1000fps.  I found one for rent but I chickened out at the last minute.  The camera is VERY expensive and to rent for 1 day is about $1,000.  Plus you have to take a day to take a class on how to operate.  I would have loved to learn that camera but I just couldn’t get past the price.   When I do these videos any cost comes out of my pocket so $1,000 is real money and not an amount I was willing to part with.

I could have rented a lesser camera but I thought it would be fun and funny to actually use an iPhone to shoot this year.   Last year, after we wrapped production for our card the joke was in 2015 we’d just take a shapshot with an iPhone and call it day.  This was the next best thing.

The iPhone 6s shoots slow motion at 240fps at 720p.  Not bad for a phone!   I mean I could have rented a fancy camera that would have had the same specs.   So I got a tripod adapter and secured my location.

My first concept was to shoot inside on a stage with a brightly lit white background.  That quickly went out the window when I got access to the New York Street on the Fox lot.   I was still hanging on to my white backdrop idea but I slept on it and finally realized that it was so cool to have the street as a backdrop and how lucky I was to get it, why not use it?!   So I did.

We had two 1.5k HMI floods and a Kino Flo but I ended up not using them.  The iPhone sensor was so great that we didnt need it.  Actually, I could have used the lights on one of the shots but I didnt and it worked out.

So this was a 6 hour ordeal.  An hour to get everything from Grip and Lighting then set it up and another 5 hours to shoot everyone (with a 1 hour break in there too).   So actual shoot time was 4 hours – still a lot for me.  I learned that when I shoot everyone in one spot I can crank it out.  We also had a lot of takes for most of the set ups.   I tried to stress that the real time of the action would be about 2 seconds – if that.

Contrary to how I normally work, I had picked out the music ahead of time.  I chose “Making Water” by Harry Gregson-Williams from The Martian.  It had just the feel I was looking for and lent itself to slo-mo.   Timing it out I figured I had 15 four-second slots to fill before the ending.

Trying to fill the 15 slots was like putting a crossword puzzle together.  We are 32 people so I needed people to try to shoot in groups.   Of course there are always singles and I had two people who were not there the day of shooting so they were solos as well.  It turned out perfect anyway so I didn’t have to burst anyone’s dreams of not doing something they wanted.

Shooting with the iPhone was pretty easy.  I tried to set up a monitor system with an Apple TV but the wifi on the studio lot would not allow it.  I then did a hard wire connection from the phone to a TV monitor and it worked.   It was nice to see larger and for others to gather around and see what was shot.  I will def work with a monitor going forward.   I didnt use this time but for next time I would try and use an iOgrapher case.  It looks cool and there are lenses to attach.

Editing was pretty easy.   Importing the 240fps into Adobe Premier Pro CC was easy – you just need to interpret the footage to the frame rate you are editing on.  In this case I went from 240fps to 24fps.  Very easy.

I also used Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop which works great with Premiere because it all links and any updates in one are automatically sent to Premiere.

All in all I love the end result.

Grain Bowl Obsession: Dream Bowl

Not sure what prompted me a few weeks ago to stop by Food on Pico.  Maybe it’s just that there was a parking spot. I was running errands during my lunch break and saw a parking spot right in front so I decided to run in and grab something to go so I could take it back to my office and eat at my desk.  Easy.

I was going to get a Caesar Salad, pretty much my go-to meal, but the Dream Bowl caught my eye.  It was the special that day.  OK.   Ordered it, bought it, grabbed it and went on my merry way.   I had no idea it would change my life.

Once I got back to my office and ate this grain bowl I could not stop thinking about it.   The next day I wanted to eat it but it was not available so I made it my mission to deconstruct and figure it out.  I did and have eaten it almost every day for about 2 weeks.  Obsessed.

It’s basically a grain bowl, with greens, vegetables, nuts and cheese with a little dressing on top.   But oh its so much more than that!!   This is a very forgiving recipe.  Add/subtract anything you want – change up the grains, the greens, the vegetables and the nuts to whatever you like and what is in season.

GRAINS
Quinoa & Farrow

GREENS
Cabbage & Kale

VEGETABLES
Squash & Sweet Potato
(optional  Avocado, Cucumber)

NUTS
Pepitas & Sunflower Seeds

CHEESE
Halloumi

DRESSING
Tumeric

GRAINS:   Cook grains according to package directions.   Mix it up if you don’t have or like these grains.
GREENS:  Make a rough chiffonade of the kale and thinly slice the cabbage (Savoy or Green).   Put in a separate bowl and toss with a a little Apple Cider Vinegar.
VEGETABLES:  Peel and cube the squash (Butternut, Kabocha, Acorn, etc) and the Sweet Potato, toss with olive oil, salt & pepper then either steam on stovetop/microwave or roast in 400 oven until tender.
NUTS:  Toss 1/2 cup each of Pepitas and Sunflower Seeds in a little olive oil and toast on stovetop until just starting to brown.   Add salt & pepper and set aside.
CHEESE:  Slice Halloumi cheese and in same pan used for Nuts grill the cheese until brown on both sides.
DRESSING:   Whisk together in bowl until smooth:

  • ¼ cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoon Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¼ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or Cayenne pepper)
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • salt & pepper

ASSEMBLY:   In serving bowl add in order

1/2 cup each of GRAINS
1/2 cup each of GREENS
1/2 cup each of VEGETABLES
2-3 slices of grilled Halloumi CHEESE
1/4 cup of NUTS
DRESSING to taste
Top with salt & pepper (to taste, the Halloumi might be salty), Aleppo Pepper & Zatar

OMG OMG OMG

DreamBowl

Video: Comin’ In Hot

I made a music video.  Not my first one.   I’ve done the Fox Music holiday videos, one for my friend Paula’s band Lonnie Starlet and one for Eleanor Dubinsky for a song Dave wrote called “Love Is”.   The Fox videos are getting to be bigger and bigger productions every year and they are a lot of work but I wouldn’t say they were “music videos” per se.  They’re meant to be a calling card for the music department at Fox.   To highlight everyone in the department, have fun and spread the love to the world.  The Lonnie Starlet and Eleanor videos were shot in a couple of hours and done on the fly.  No pre-planning, or plan!

The music video for Sawyer Auger was definitely different than all of the others.   I’ve always wanted to do some sort of stop motion video but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it.   I saw Christopher Rehage’s The Longest Way and wanted to do something like that.   Up close portraits with photos, not video.   I wanted to highlight Los Angeles and the song.  I went through the lyrics and planned out what I wanted to see for each line, different styles for different sections (like slow mo for the bridge), etc, etc.   I made a list of all the potential locations.

We ended up going on 6 shoots.   Two all days shoots and four partial.   But I also went out and drove up Pacific Coast Highway a few times with my GoPro strapped to the dashboard to get the road shots.  Everything else was shot on my Canon 5D MkIII using a tripod and reflector.

Day 1 was Santa Monica beach and Palisades Park.  I had the whole day mapped out for Day 2.  LAX to Malibu to Beverly Hils, to Hollywood.  We were going to go Downtown but hit a wall and re-set for the next day.  Day 3 was Downtown LA all day long.   Crazy.

I was hoping to be done with just those shoot days but after I assembled the photos (after a LOT of organizing) I realized I needed more shots.   I could have used a whole day but then just did another hour.

After more editing I realized I still needed MORE shots.   Another couple of hours including going to the beach again.

The editing process was more about pre-production.  Organizing the shots into groups and then cropping every shot to fit the dimensions of the video and lining up head and shoulders so every frame would match.  I did all of this in Adobe Lightroom.   The Lay Image option in the Loop Overlay was essential.  I chose an image that had the closest crop (despite all of the efforts to make each setup match it was ultimately all over the place) and made a transparent image of just head and shoulders that was overlayed over each imaged used to line up all of the other shots.

Once everything was organized, cropped and tweaked it was just a matter of importing into Adobe Premiere Pro and making each group of photos a composition and using those as building blocks.

The hardest part of the editing process for me was timing.  Getting everything to land on a beat.  Markers were great for that but it was still a challenge.   Ultimately I wanted to double time everything in the chorus but that was poo poo’d and I went with what I had.

I did end up shooting some video – which I had preplanned in my prep.  Shot at 60 fps and using Twixtor to blend the frames they were pretty good.  I think I could have used an iPhone on some of the shots and had equal or better results.   The slo mo portion of the bridge portion of the song was fun.  Basically we sped up the song to double time and shot that then played it back at half time and the image matched what was being sung/played.   So fun!  I’d like to do more of that.

The lip synch photos were challenging.  I didn’t end up using most of what I shot. It was just too hard to match what was being sung to what was on the screen.  Oh well.

Overall I am happy with the quality of the photos.  Unfortunately, some were taken without a reflector and would have benefitted greatly if we had it with us (long story).  But some of them are amazing quality and I can’t believe I actually took those photos!

I am also happy with the end results of the video.   We used 4200 images in the whole thing.  That’s a lot of photography.   Hope you like it.


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