The Prodigal Altar Boy

Thursday, December 9, 2010

My Russian Lens Fetish Part 2 - My First Russian Lens

My First Russian Lens
With the XL1 Solutions PL adapter in hand, the next move was to get a suitable lens.  The adapter was less than the original list price, but not cheap, so budget was also a concern for the initial lens purchase.  I did not want to go completely bargain basement, but I also did not want to lay out an exorbitant amount of cash in case the results with the adapter were less than optimal.  With that in mind, I scoured the auctions at the time to find prices ranged from under $100 to thousands of dollars for PL mount lenses.  I found a Jupiter 11 lens the owner had adapted to PL mount.  The Jupiter 11 is not a movie lens, per se, this one was PL mount and after some bargaining, the price was right. 
Online auctions have shrunk our world and I am always amazed how things I could only dream of during the Cold War (like prime Russian optics) are now only a mouse click away.  As futuristic as the implications of international e-commerce may seem, the tried and true rules of the market place since Roman times (caveat emptor comes to mind) still apply.  While that first lens was not all that I expected, the value of that purchase as a proof of concept for the Russian lens theory outweighed any disappointment I may have initially felt.  What I learned with that purchase would shape my future purchases.
“You get what you pay for.”  Always keep that saw in mind when buying anything online.  Again, no regrets with this initial purchase, but when the lens arrived from Ukraine, the packaging reinforced that online auctions with overseas sellers is not for the faint of heart.  As primitive as the packaging was, to the seller’s credit, it did the job and the lens arrived in the condition described in the listing, no worse for the trip.  As an aside, I gave the seller good feedback, and did not obsess over the packaging (yes, I know I’m STILL talking about it).
After taking the lens out and inspecting it, I broke out the PL adapter and imagined a short trip from popping my Russian treasure onto the PL adapter to regaling in cinema-like images in my XL1s viewfinder.  Did I mention online buying is not for the faint of heart?  Does caveat emptor bear repeating? 
Online commerce, especially when it comes to discontinued products, is not for the faint of heart.  While the XL1Solutions adapter got good reviews, and the site (when it was up) was a wealth of information, when they shuttered the doors, the majority of customer service, to include instructions on how to use the adapter, evaporated with their web presence.  Looking at the adapter and recalling what I’d read on the site, the adapter was milled from a solid piece of stainless steel.  Based on that, I assumed the adapter was a single piece and that is where the trouble started.
When I tried to mount the Russian lens to the adapter, I observed the PL flange for the lens would not mate with the corresponding flange on the rim of the adapter.  After more than a few frustrating moments, I realized the adapter’s front flange actually screws on and might come out far enough to accommodate the PL flange on the lens.  Problem solved, right?
Not so fast, there, partner.  With the front flange extended as far as possible, the back of the lens will not seat evenly at the back of the adapter to allow mounting.  So close, and yet so far.  Looking at the lens, I notice that what the previous owner used to adapt the lens to PL mount used something an L-shaped bracket to attach the lens to the PL adapter and that protrusion was keeping the lens from sitting squarely in the XL to PL mount adapter. 
Repeat after me, “Used photo equipment from Russia is not for the faint of heart.”  After some trepidation, I removed the bracket from the lens.  The resulting configuration of the lens let me (finally) attach the lens to the PL adapter.  The tradeoff is that the focusing ring is disabled and the only way to focus the lens is by rotating the front of the lens.  While focusing from the front (the lens has an attached lens hood) was not an optimal configuration, it was usable for this proof of concept. 
NEXT UP:  Screen Test for the Jupiter 11

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Russian Lens Fetish Part 1

One big advantage of Canon’s XL series of camcorders is the interchangeable lens.  While the XL1s  camera I own is far from today’s state of the art, the XL cameras are workhorses for independent filmmakers and the availability of Canon and aftermarket accessories for the platform ensure support for the camera will continue for quite a while, cementing it as a viable choice for at least a few more years.
In addition to the Canon 3X  wide-angle zoom lens, there are also the 14X and the 16X manual lenses made exclusively for the XL series, offering a range of optical choices.  The 14X and the 16X allow full analog control of focus, exposure and zoom, which make them ideal for depth of field (DOF) manipulation especially if paired with a follow-focus kit.  The 3X wide-angle lens increases framing options, particularly for single camera coverage.
As attractive as those Canon products are, one recurring theme for “prosumer” mini-DV shooters is the belief that pairing their camera with film and motion picture lenses will evoke a “film-like” quality to their shots.  Redrock is one of the larger companies in the business of adapters that let mini-DV users shoot with film lenses, and there are others as well.  Most of these adapters work with camcorders that do not have interchangeable lenses, so they also have to invert the image before it gets to the imaging CCD’s. 
Since the XL cameras have interchangeable lenses, an adapter that attaches to the XL mount on one end and has a mount for other lenses on the other is a purely mechanical solution that does not interfere with the optics of the lens, bypassing the need for image inversion.  The Canon EF Adapter does just that, allowing XL shooters to uses most Canon EOS lenses.  One consideration is image magnification (2X to 4X, depending on who you talk to) because the lens is focusing the image on the smaller CD sensors instead of the 35mm film plane.  
The Canon EOS line of lenses represent myriad optic choices for the independent cinematographer, but short of the Holy Grail, which (semi-twisted) logic dictates would be actual film lenses captured on mini-DV.  A pioneer in that arena was a company (now defunct) called XL1 Solutions that produced a stainless steel adapter that allowed the XL platform to work with (wait for it) Arri PL mount lenses, putting 16mm and 35mm film lenses at the disposal of Canon XL users.  XL1 Solution may be out of business, but at least one other manufacturer, Les Bosher of England, makes a similar mount. 
If you are still reading, you’re probably wondering, “What does any of this have to do with Russian lenses?”  The answer, as usual, is money.  The list prices of the Canon lenses were extremely high when first released, and while you can find all of them at auction for a fraction of those prices, at the time they represented a considerable investment.  Even the EF adapter was pricey and combined with the restriction to EOS lenses, was a difficult purchase for an independent to justify.  While not cheap ($399 to $499), the XL1 Solutions PL adapter fit in a price niche that could be justified if you could find a 16mm or 35mm movie lens at a reasonable price.
That is where Russia comes in.  While most of the West was converting from film to videotape, Eastern Europe, especially Russia was still making the most of 16mm and 35mm motion picture cameras.  One benefit of Warsaw Pact dissolution was the availability of quality, functional 16mm and 35mm motion picture film equipment. On any given day, hundreds of Russian lenses such as LOMO, Mir and Jupiter duke it on eBay with other prime lenses.  While the Western models have the advantage of notoriety and industry acknowledgment, the Russian lenses, many of them based on the Western luminaries, offer the independent film budget a chance to use cinematic lenses in the mini-DV format.
I was lucky enough to find an XL1 Solutions adapter at auction for a fraction of the original list price.  A suitable lens was the next piece of the puzzle.  

NEXT UP:  My First Russian Lens.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Blog Improvement Plan Part 7 - Peer review of blog as Review of My Life

Peer review of blog as Review of My Life
Processing the peer reviews of the blog was an opportunity to reflect on the documentary’s progress, especially for the past year.  Reviewers wanted to see more of my personality come through.  The past year was a period of growth.  Leading the worship team, I saw the entire team grow, and I grew musically as well as spiritually. I saw my focus on music caused other gifts to lie fallow.  “Worship musician” presents an incomplete picture of me as a person, and pigeonholes the gifts I bring to ministry.

I was glad to serve as worship leader and it was a great experience.  Much like the first incarnation of the blog, however, it did not allow much of my personality to come through.  I think the documentary, in addition to honoring TQ’s lifelong ministry, can be an opportunity to minister with all my gifts and extend the reach of a TQ’s ministry.  Every shoot has been a peak experience and revealed an unexpected moment with a message only for me, saying, “This is what you need to be doing.”

So what does this all mean?  It means I stepped down from the worship team.  It means I will spend more time finishing the documentary.  I have 20+ hours of footage “in the can” and it will take another 30 to be ready for a good edit.  There is also the legal work (releases, licenses, copyright clearance, etc.), as well as scoring, sweetening and other post-production chores.  The rest of the long haul is equally labor-intensive, including marketing, film festivals and distribution.

Here's another clip of TQ.  He talks about butterflies as the symbol of the resurrection.  Thanks for tuning in. 

Next:  The way ahead for the TQ Project

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 6)

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 6)

Okay, let’s wrap this up.  Here is the section on the blog’s content.

The instructions for the final paper in the capstone course were:
Submit a two- to three-page paper providing a brief rationale of the following components used in the creation and development of your Blog:

Purpose (part 1)
Purpose (part 2)
Audience (part 1)
Audience (part 2)

This post wraps up the paper with a discussion of content, the conclusion and the references for the paper.  The paper in its entirety can be found here.  
The advantage of a blog based on a movie in production is an abundance of content.  Location photos, the film’s thesis, raw footage, audio clips and correspondence from interview subjects are all fair game for blog content.  The availability of content relates to Anderson’s Long Tail model of the new economy, which focuses on abundance and the implications of that abundance on the behavior of consumers.  The Long Tail model of web relevance characterizes search engines as time-agnostic, so over time, what comes to the top of search engine lists is not the newest, but the best, based on the number of links and traffic to a particular page (Anderson, 2008, pp. 142-144).  Using the Long Tail model, the content from the blog, if it is relevant, can enjoy a longer life on the web, which feeds into the marketing goals of the blog and the movie.
    Abundance of content dovetails with the Rowse and Garrett’s opinion on granular posts since not only can I serialize long posts,  I can enhance each post with examples from any of the documentary media related to the subject.  In revisiting the Nat Turner topic, I can use transmedia input such as Google Maps to show TQ’s route from Tidewater to Southampton County, footage from TQ’s interview, newspaper pictures and articles on the Easter liturgy.
Augmenting the narrative and visual content of the posts and video/graphics, additional content will relate to Calvin Thomas, the person, with running lists, such as “Guilty Pleasures,” where I will list some of my “toys,” along with a short commentary about them.  “Blast from the Past,” another sub-section of the blog, will feature pictures and short stories chronicling how I got to where I am.  Lists that are more topical will be “Cal’s To-Do” list, an accountability tool showing scans of “to-do” lists I used to finish certain aspects of production.

The individual elements of design, content and audience ultimately must support the primary purpose of the blog.  The milestone goals of the blog, tied to the milestones of production, will evolve over the course of the documentary, but point to the overarching goal of attracting supporters for the documentary and calling them to action.  Central to getting others to spread the word about TQ is connecting the individual stories in each parish, of each person, to the rest of the lives TQ touched.  While the connectivity of the internet and blogs are not a single solution, trading on the strength of the web to make the connections makes the work easier.

Works Cited

Anderson, C. (2008). The Long Tail - Longer - why the future of business is selling less of more. Ney York City: Hyperion.
Biskupic, J. (2009). American Original The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia . New York city: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Bosko, M. S. (2003). The Complete Independent Movie Marketing Handbook - promote, distribute & sell your film or video. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions.
Faidman, D., & Levelle, T. (2008). Producing With Passion. Studio City: Michael Wiese Productions.
Garfield, S. (2010). Get Seen - online video secrets to building your business. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Reiss, J. (2010). Think Outside The Box Office - the ultimate guide to film distribution in the digital era. Hybrid Cinema Publishing.
Rowse, D., & Garrett, C. (2008). Pro blogger - secrets for blogging your way to a a six-figure income. Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
Ruehlmann, B. (2009, March 22). Controversial Priest's Papers Enter Eclectic Collection. The Virginian Pilot .

Next: Prodigal Altar Boy blog as an analogy for my life.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 5)

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 5)

Here is the second half of the blog’s purpose.

The instructions for the final paper in the capstone course were:

Submit a two- to three-page paper providing a brief rationale of the following components used in the creation and development of your Blog:

Purpose (part 1)
Audience (part 1)
Audience (part 2)

 Here are the comments from students in the class (COM 480):

“The second blog I viewed was Calvins.  Calvin your blog is interesting also.  I liked how you credited all of your sources.  I also liked how you added graphs to support your ideas.  I did feel that your blog did not have a personal, or fun, touch to it.  I know this is suppose to be a professional blog, but I think that you can make it a bit more interesting.  I think that you will lose people if they are just reading facts and not having a little entertainment to keep the readers interest.  Remember this is just my opinion.  It was still a good blog and very informative.”
Morgan Johnson

I'm not a blog expert, but I think your blog should reflect a bit of your personality into it. Bring your material to life by adding color. I do like the graphs you used in your post about media technologies. I would also suggest maybe keeping your post short and concise to the subject matter. Even when I read blogs outside of this class, I want something to the point. Overall, I think you are off to a great start.”
Kritina Clairborne

The looping of the pictures is an excellent touch to your site.  Your text in your blogs seem to run together.  Maybe switch the colors text per each blog.  This will help with transition between each blog post.  Given the grey/black color scheme.  You may want to shorten up your reference block.  As it takes up a good majority of your page. ”
Terrence Matthews

Instructor Comments on the blog improvement plan:
Once again, you have done excellent work.  Keep it up.  I'll be hearing from you.
Mr. Sexton”

Purpose (part 2 of 2)
           Rather than appeal to a wide audience, I will take Emmy Award-winning blogger Felicia Day’s advice and aim the blog’s content toward a niche audience and use the strength of the Web to tell my story (Garfield, 2010, pp. 261-263).  Although each phase of production will have slightly different audience (e.g. the technically inclined will be more interested in the equipment and application during production, while educators might be more interested in how each subject’s interview supports the film's thesis), the overarching purpose of the blog is to attract supporters for the documentary.
           After attracting supporters, the blog will call them to action (Bosko, 2003, p. 313).  Short- term goals for action include reading about the film, reading about me, watching the clips on the blog and looking at the related slide shows.  Short-term goals feed into the larger goals of increasing interest in the film, spreading word of mouth about the film and ultimately, financial support through sponsoring/attending a screening, participating in fundraising, purchasing a copy of the film, or offering to distribute the documentary.  Faidman and Levelle point out, “People fund people, not ideas,” so the larger goal of the blog is to assure the niche that Calvin Thomas has the drive and integrity to bring the documentary to the finish line and any resources they commit will be well invested (Faidman & Levelle, 2008, p. 69).

Next up: Content and the conclusion.  Stay tuned!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 4 - Purpose)

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 4)
Purpose (1 of 2)

A reader (actually probably the only reader) asked what the purpose of the Prodigal Altar Boy blog.  The instructions for the final paper in the capstone course were:

Submit a two- to three-page paper providing a brief rationale of the following components used in the creation and development of your Blog:

That brings us to purpose.  The excerpts from the paper address the class assignment, which was to take peer and instructor comments on my blog and outline changes I will make based on the comments.  The paper stands on its own.  I took all the comments to heart and made changes based on the comments.  When I wrap up this series, I will give you the comments verbatim as well as the instructor’s comments on the paper and the final grade.  

The blog is a metaphor, and I did not realize that until the class was over.  By putting my stamp on the blog, the observations from my classmates (thank you all) became observations on my life, and the changes for the blog imply similar changes for my life.  At the end of the series, I will talk about some of those changes.

The Prodigal Altar Boy blog is part of a multi-faceted marketing approach for my documentary about Father Thomas J. Quinlan (“TQ”).  The flexibility of the web log format allows the blog’s focus to change with the production milestones of the film.  The film is currently in principal photography, which means I have begun filming the basic elements of the movie.  The blog will focus on that portion of production, covering completed locations shoots, the background of the subjects, equipment used, and if possible, short clips from the shoots.
           At the end of principal photography, the film moves into post-production and the blog will emphasize the editing process and other elements of post-production, to include scoring, color correction, sound sweetening and titles.  Rough cuts, music samples and examples of edited footage with various music beds will be blog content for this phase of production.
           The screening/distribution phase of the documentary is a marketing push to raise awareness of the film with potential screening venues as well as distributors.  While this phase has more of a marketing bent, in reality, the subtext of the blog from inception, is marketing to attract the niche of people interested in the film from the standpoints of subject matter, film festival potential, educational potential and revenue through distribution.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 3 )

Blog Improvement Plan (Part 3)
Audience (continued)

Here is the task from the Capstone Class:  

Submit a two- to three-page paper providing a brief rationale of the following components used in the creation and development of your Blog:
    • Purpose
    • Design
    • Content
    • Audience
This is the second part of the Audience plan for the blog:

Audience (continued)

Geographically, while the Hampton Roads area represents a contiguous audience landscape, the Richmond (home to the Diocese) as well as the northern Virginia areas are additional geographic audiences to consider.  TQ’s former parish in Alexandria still exists and his exploits there still resonate.  In the recent biography of Chief Justice Antonin Scalia, the biographer relates Scalia family lore of attending a northern Virginia church where the priest drove a Volkswagen down the aisle during a Palm Sunday service (Biskupic, 2009, p. 186).  That priest was TQ, and the persistence of that story reinforces the importance of northern Virginia for audience potential.  Norfolk, Virginia plays a geographic role given the amount of time spent and media coverage TQ garnered while there.  From an educational/research standpoint, TQ’s donation of 20+ boxes of documents related to his career as a rogue priest to the Norfolk Main Library (Ruehlmann, 2009) creates a connection with the city that could promote the film to a larger audience.  Posting archival documents to the blog and linking to the library is one way to exploit that connection.  TQ’s connection to Tidewater media also bears consideration.  I will be licensing archival photographs and stories from Norfolk media, so the use of those pictures on the blog can generate links to that media and serve as the basis for local interest stories.
Finally, from an industry approach, any media concerning documentary filmmaking, especially independent filmmakers, is a potential audience.  People who enjoy documentary films are another audience to include, as well as distributors of documentary films, to include the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
Just as I have posted links to TQ’s Wikipedia page as well as one of his former parishes, I will add links to as many of the potential audience websites I deem fit.  I will use keywords and blog labels related to the target audience to enhance search engine performance.  In instances where I have direct contacts, email, phone calls and even personal visits will spread the word of the film, always directing them to the blog and websites related to the film.    I will make sure the web address of the blog appears in all marketing materials and will add that address to the end of my personal emails.