Rum doc update

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, May 17, 2023, 10:43 PM | comments: 0

It has been just short of four weeks since I last did a location shoot for the rum documentary. But I haven't been idle in getting this movie moving. Let me catch up.

First off, I did do some product shots here at our house about two and a half weeks ago. I decided that in the narrative where the distillery owner talks about all of their products, I would lead into their retail manager talking about all of the products. This was not super intentional. When I was last at the distillery, I was following around a tour, which ends in the shop for tasting, and someone there talks about all of the flavors of rum that they sell. I thought, "Cool, that's a good way to review all of the stuff that they're making." So I tucked myself into a corner, and shot the retail manager talking about the stuff, with the intention of inserting in shots of product later. I asked the owner if I could take home some bottles for the things I didn't have, and she sent me home with about $350 of liquor.

So Diana helped me dress up our antique buffet as a bar, which would appear in the background, out of focus, the target bottles in the foreground. I bought a camera slider, which uses a motor to move the camera steadily in front of your subject, even panning if you want. That's one of the toys I've resisted buying for a few years because I had no use for it, but this was the perfect use. (Sidebar: I do wish I had it for the B-camera in the interviews, because having some slow, steady movement to cut to would be not the worst thing.)

I tried to marry the two things last weekend, and I'm deeply unsatisfied. The from-the-corner recording of the retail manager has some focus problems, because I was relying on auto-focus. For a less moving person, this would be fine, but she was moving quite a bit, and being short, kept disappearing behind my foreground. That's a dumb rookie mistake, but with the camera essentially above me hanging from the EasyRig, it would have been really hard to do manual focus. You can do OK, if you can keep tapping the LCD where you want to focus, but the position was too awkward. If that weren't enough, the audio is just slightly over-modulated in places. I have to figure out the why. In my tests, the wireless mic (a DJI Mic) was not peaking on the receiver, and it looked OK in the on-camera meters as well. Looks like I need to reassess that and not just watch meters, but listen. Also, in my product shots, I somehow did not get the pineapple bottle, and some of the bottles are not upright or the camera wasn't level. I can fix that in post, but at the expense of losing resolution (rotating then zooming in). Also, I bought some amazing Amaran 2-foot tube lights that were amazing in lighting the bottles. I can use those as backlights on a C-stand to great effect. I can see the honeycomb grid in the main light reflection, which I'm not sure that I'm crazy about.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of hiring an animator to put some visuals to the lead distiller's description of fermentation. I told him that I wanted to do this, basically put a face on yeast, and he leaned into it hard. He personifies the yeast at every opportunity when he describes what happens in fermentation. It's about two solid minutes. I used one of the online freelancing sites to solicit work for that. The good news is that I found several animators that have a style that I'm really into. The bad news is that they almost universally quote $2k or more to do the work. And here's the thing, I respect the art, and I'm not going to try to minimize the value of what they do. I'm gonna haggle, sure, but I'm not going to try to corner them with some kind of bullshit "for exposure" proposition. You can't pay rent with "exposure." It is what it is, and I guess my thinking is that maybe if I up the production value, I'm more likely to be able to sell the film. I budgeted $10k for the whole thing, and while I'm not there yet, I am getting close. I still have no idea what I'm going to do about music.

The distiller's spiel also had the audio problem. I'm not sure why he was coming in so hot, because the meters did not indicate that was the case. Fortunately, the stars aligned to save it. My camera records four channels of audio, so the wireless bits go into channels 3 and 4 (the wireless system has two transmitters). On-camera, I have a shotgun mic that records to channels one and two, with the second channel recording at a lower level as a backup, in case there's over-modulation. With the stars aligning, DaVinci Resolve has an audio effect that is an AI voice isolation thing. The distillery has a lot of fan, pump and bottling noises, and a shotgun is going to pick that up, reflecting from all of the metal tanks and stills. But turn that on, and the shotgun audio sounds like I had a clean lavalier on him (which I thought that I did). So that interview, which is the basis of the animation, is golden.

All of this so far brings up something that I knew was true, but in my mind I insisted I was too indie to accept. Everything that you do, when it comes to shooting, will be better if you have help. My solo trip to Cape Coral made this more obvious, when compared to our first trip there, with Diana and Simon. On the first trip, Diana simply assumed responsibility for things on that first trip and by extension freed up room in my head for other things. She mic'd the talent, asked about setting up certain lights and in the back of her mind, thought about what we had to talk about in interviews. Even Simon would ask things like light levels and color temperature (which is pretty great for a 13-year-old). When I was solo, I wasn't thinking about things at that level. The mistakes made that obvious. I wasn't paying attention to monitoring audio closely, I wasn't moving lights around or reducing time by having others setup stuff, and I had no second opinion about interview questions. I can't even tell you what a difference this makes. It results in less mistakes.

Another mistake is that while shooting some food truck vendors, again, solo, I didn't think enough about lighting. In a wild coincidence, DaVinci Resolve has also introduced an AI virtual lighting thing that blows my mind. The short version is that you can introduce lighting into situations that didn't have it. The most animated of interviews that I did involved a guy pretty late, and it was pretty dark. I could see him, but it looks like shit because I was solo and didn't think to put a light on the guy. I'm angry at myself, because I can't repeat that moment. I'm hopeful that I can save the moment with comprooders, but I haven't applied the effect yet.

There are a lot of things that I can re-do, and I'm trying to remember that. Certainly staged product shots fall in that category. But even the product "tour" can be re-shot if I go back down there and ask her to do it without a tour in the room. The only thing that is really "one shot" is the interviews, because they're honest, vulnerable and in the moment. Every interview that I've done so far looks amazing and cinematic. Other stuff can easily be staged and re-shot. I also need to consider how bad I want shots of endless sugar cane fields, and I think I really want that, despite the fact that I likely have to drive for three hours to get it (but oh the drone shots). As for the missing product shots and crooked bottles, I can re-do that at my leisure.

Last night I started to mess with a logo for the film using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, leaning into online tutorials. This I think I can do by myself and not rely on a third party. What I have so far looks pretty cool.

And one last thread... I feel like I need to get down to the consumer part of rum consumption, and I think I have a few interesting leads there.

I'm not idle, but I'm not exactly cutting the movie yet either.


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