November 16th, 2017

Cinematography of “Frank and Lola” – interview with Eric Koretz

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my pleasure to welcome Eric Koretz. In this interview he talks about the evolution of digital hardware and software tools at his disposal, the changing landscape of the art of storytelling, working on commercials, minimizing disruptions on set, and how film compares to other art forms. The second half of the interview is about Eric’s work on the recently released “Frank and Lola”, a noir romance of desire, infidelity and jealousy starring Michael Shannon and Imogen Poots.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and your path so far.

Eric: My name is Eric Koretz and I’m a cinematographer.

I graduated from the communications design program at Syracuse University. I had a design company in school doing graphic design and motion graphics. I moved to Los Angeles after graduating and continued doing the design work. After a year of doing that I realized that I hated it, and that I wanted to do film. So I shut everything down and started PA’ing on music videos and commercials. That was back around 2001.

I also did a lot of still photography, but at that time I didn’t know that I wanted to be a cinematographer. I didn’t even know what it really was. I was more interested in directing and writing, and that’s how I started. I applied to the American Film Institute for cinematography, because I naively thought that I would just learn the camera work, while keeping to do directing and writing. My portfolio was pretty strange – photography and those hybrid projects.

When I got in, everybody else had so many years of experience and it was a steep learning curve for me. But as it went along, I realized that cinematography was all I wanted to do. AFI was a great experience. I learned a lot there from the classes but also from the guest DP’s that would come in to teach, and also from the other students.


On the sets of “Frank and Lola”. Courtesy of Eric Koretz.

Kirill: Would you say that the industry’s transition to digital opened up the field and democratized it in a sense? It takes not that much money to get a reasonably good equipment these days.

Eric: When I was in college, those 3-chip CCD digital cameras started coming out, and they changed everything. I started using those for my hybrid projects, and they were great. But I still learned film, and I was shooting video and editing on A/B rollers. AfterEffects and Final Cut were just coming out, but that’s what you had before for editing. You would take two video-tape decks, and cut between them by rolling back and forth. That’s what I learned in college before those software packages came out.

I shot film in under-grad, and I also shot film in grad school. That’s when the first big digital cameras started appearing, with the first “Star Wars” prequel using Sony 900. And after graduating AFI that’s when 5D came out. I bought it mostly for stills, and then fell in love with the video aspect of it. And it changed everything, because you could just go out and have this beautiful quality without paying that much money for the more expensive gear. That opened up a whole new world.

I did a lot of 5D cinematography right when it first started off. I was sort of on the forefront of shooting with 5D, and I think it really helped. The normal process when you get out of school is to crew and work your way up, but I was shooting all the time. I did a lot of documentaries and smaller commercial projects, and started to build from there.

Kirill: Do you miss those days, or the physicality of film as medium?

Eric: I was always trying the next new thing in terms of digital. I love the immediacy of digital. I love to be able to manipulate the image and see what you’re doing live on set. I have absolutely no nostalgia for film, and that’s different from a lot of other DPs [directors of photography]. I love what you get with the new digital cameras. I don’t miss film at all.


On the sets of “Frank and Lola”. Courtesy of Eric Koretz.

Kirill: If you look at how the technology is changing in your field, do you think there’s a lot of revolutionary steps ahead of us, or is it more about incremental evolution? Is it close to reach the maximum potential of technology at this particular phase?

Eric: The steps are definitely incrementally smaller. The main camera people are using now is Alexa Mini, which is mostly because of its size and the media that it uses. However it’s an “under-spec’d” camera. The max resolution is 3.4K, but you have to shoot open gate raw to achieve that. People have been using this camera for the last two years, while there are other cameras from RED, Sony and Panasonic that have 4K+ resolution.

It’s really about the color science, and how accurate and natural you get the colors. That’s what I’m mostly interested in seeing improved. Alexa does it beautifully, and all the other companies are improving. That’s why I still use the Alexa. I love the color science.

The push for resolution only matters in terms of how you’re viewing it. Most consumer TVs that are coming out now with decent to best specs are 4K, so it’s only natural for the cameras to progress to be 4K to match that. And the projectors that come out to be used in movie theaters are all 4K. It only makes sense to have the resolution of what your final output is going to be.

Kirill: What about the artistic side of it? Does it mean anything to jump from 4K to 6K, for example?

Eric: Artistically, I don’t think it matters. It’s more about the colors and the color science, to me anyway. I’m not against more resolution. Most DPs don’t like it when you re-frame after the fact, but it gives you the ability to sometimes shoot one size and then crop in or move it around. But it doesn’t really matter to me.


On the sets of “Frank and Lola”. Courtesy of Eric Koretz.

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November 7th, 2017

Cinematography of “Below Her Mouth” – interview with Maya Bankovic

Continuing the ongoing series of interviews with creative artists working on various aspects of movie and TV productions, it is my delight to welcome Maya Bankovic. In this interview she talks about the world of cinematography and the evolution of digital tools at her disposal, how she chooses her projects and collaborators, and the balance between being emotionally involved with the story and staying aware of her job on the set. The second half of the interview is about Maya’s work on the recently released “Below Her Mouth”, a tale of desire, passion, and sexuality made by an-all female crew of storytellers.

Kirill: Please tell us about yourself and your path so far.

Maya: I took up 35mm photography as a hobby when I was a teenager, and I loved using my Minolta and spending time in the darkroom. But I didn’t want to pursue still photography because it seemed like kind of a lonely life. What I did realize was that I loved working as part of a team, bouncing ideas around and making something as a group, in theatre class for example. Having people around me was very satisfying, and I was thinking about how I could do that as a job [laughs].

I went to a film school and met a lot of new people, and it worked out pretty well, because twelve years later I still work with a lot of them. At that age I was chasing a certain type of life that would give me interesting experiences and access to other realities, while satisfying the technical part I loved about doing photography.

Kirill: As you started to work in the industry, was there anything particularly surprising for you?

Maya: It is such a demanding industry to be working in and the hours are really long, so it’s always surprising to me when people don’t love doing it yet stay. I didn’t want to risk becoming too jaded with all of that so I worked my way up as a cinematographer from tiny projects to bigger ones. I think doing independent films with people I care about has enabled me to maintain the love that I have for filmmaking, because the demands of the industry itself can make for a difficult lifestyle. Now that I’m working on larger projects with people I’m meeting outside of any kind of shared history together, I still go into a new film with that same spirit of community – it helps me ignore the stress of the business apparatus that’s always functioning in the background and concentrate instead on the creativity.

Kirill: What are your thoughts about the evolution of digital cameras in the last decade or so?

Maya: I talk about this all the time – this technological shift is the reason why I have this career. It started around 2005 when I took out a small bank loan to buy a DVX100a, which was the only camcorder at the time that could do 24p at an affordable price. Shooting in 24p was what was creating a distinction in the look and quality level among documentary filmmakers and indie filmmakers at that time, the same way cameras later on offered large sensors and we all made the leap towards that, collectively.

So that camera was the reason I was able to put myself out there as a cinematographer after I left school and lost access to the equipment there. People cared a lot about whether or not you’d shot film, which I had done a lot of at school. But you had to basically be able to afford to shoot a project on film in order to keep doing things at the industry-standard level. And the minimum price for a film project was around $20,000. But people were coming around to the idea of using my little DVX100a so that we could keep busy between those more expensive film projects.

Then the RED camera came out, and everything changed. Access to the RED and others that came out shortly thereafter levelled the field. It was no longer about the film standard, but rather about your eye. It allowed me to experiment. When you’re using digital equipment, it frees you up to play with composition or exposure or white balance without worrying about wasting film. The price of one foot of film comes to around one dollar, once it’s all purchased, processed and transferred. That’s about one dollar per second, which is a lot if you’re experimenting. I think a lot of DPs [directors of photography] felt liberated to play around more with cinematography and open up their imaginations thanks to digital cameras.

Kirill: Is there anything still missing in digital cameras from the artistic perspective?

Maya: I love the texture of film, and there’s a certain discipline that comes with shooting film. It is part of the process that is maybe gone now. It was the texture and certain imperfections that you could get that made me love shooting film. Those imperfections were not always appropriate for every project, but when they were, it was magical.

For me, now, it’s more about the quality of the story that I’m capturing. It doesn’t matter to me that digital has taken over. I love shooting film with its gorgeous texture, and I do adore the process. But in terms of the artistic or the creative approach, that should all be motivated by the story. That’s what dictates the creative direction you follow, not necessarily the thing you use to capture it.

The most important thing to me is the quality of the story that we are putting into the world, and I think that a lot of these projects wouldn’t get made if we were still counting on film, with its prohibitive costs. There would be very little money invested in stories that are more niche or fringe, because no one would want to sink a huge investment into a TV show or a film that is not guaranteed to show a return on investment by appealing to mainstream audiences. Projects that reach beyond mainstream culture’s usual narratives can get made now, and look good, and to me that is an important artistic development, because it’s a cultural one.

Kirill: To me as a viewer that means that I have more productions to choose from. These days I find myself having to decide what not to watch, because there’s only so many free hours in the day.

Maya: It’s definitely true. I think the main problem with that are the really low-budget productions which neither take any creative or conceptual risks nor provide good jobs for people. There’s an oversaturation of those types of productions in every major city in the world. When you only have a shoestring budget, it’s sort of a false dream to think that you’re going to make your mark as a filmmaker when you’re trying to make something with mainstream appeal but you’re up against thousands of similar projects of a similar scope. It’s not sustainable, but ultimately it’s the choice of the people that pursue it. Again, that’s why seeking out stories that exist outside of those story conventions are where I find most of my own feelings of personal urgency and devotion as a cinematographer. Same goes for when I’m choosing which films to watch. Because yes, there are so, so many of them.

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October 17th, 2017

Releases 2017.H2

Going with the new biannual release cycle of my Swing projects, this week is seeing the latest official releases of Substance and Flamingo.

Along with a few visual polishes and tweaks, Substance 7.1 (code-named Vermont) brings support for using correct default system font on macOS 10.10+ when you’re running your app under the recently-released Java 9. In addition, your JOptionPanes will see a tweaked order and alignment of the buttons. By default, the order and alignment follows the interface guidelines for the specific platform. On a macOS machine, for example, the buttons will be aligned to the trailing edge of the dialog (right on LTR and left on RTL), with the default button placed as the trailing button:

Use the APIs on the SubstanceLookAndFeel class for app-specific control over the order and alignment of the JOptionPane buttons if you want to deviate from the platform guidelines.

The previous release of Substance brought full support for high DPI screens, and the latest release for Flamingo 5.2 (code-named Kennocha) aligns both libraries to be first class citizens on modern screen hardware. The unofficial release notes are:

  • Full high DPI support for all components, including
    • Command button icons and arrows
    • Color selector popup menu
    • Ribbon galleries
    • Ribbon bands in collapsed state
  • Support for vertical scrolling of secondary level content in ribbon application menu
  • Better mouse wheel handling in command menu popups
  • Addressed clipping issues on some transcoded SVG content

If you’re in the business of writing Swing desktop applications, I’d love for you to take the latest releases of Substance and Flamingo for a spin. You can find the downloads in the /drop folders of the matching Github repositories. All of them require Java 8 to build and run. Happy Swing coding!

October 4th, 2017

Release candidates 2017.H2

Going with the new biannual release cycle of my Swing projects, it’s time to do the release candidates for the latest iterations of Substance and Flamingo.

Along with a few visual polishes and tweaks, Substance 7.1 (code-named Vermont) brings support for using correct default system font on macOS 10.10+ when you’re running your app under the recently-released Java 9.

The previous release of Substance brought full support for high DPI screens, and the latest release candidate for Flamingo 5.2 (code-named Kennocha) aligns both libraries to be first class citizens on modern screen hardware. The unofficial release notes are:

  • Full high DPI support for all components, including
    • Command button icons and arrows
    • Color selector popup menu
    • Ribbon galleries
    • Ribbon bands in collapsed state
  • Support for vertical scrolling of secondary level content in ribbon application menu
  • Better mouse wheel handling in command menu popups
  • Addressed clipping issues on some transcoded SVG content

If you’re in the business of writing Swing desktop applications, I’d love for you to take the latest release candidates of Substance and Flamingo for a spin. You can find the downloads in the /drop folders of the matching Github repositories. All of them require Java 8 to build and run. The final releases are scheduled to happen in two weeks’ time, on the week of October 16th.