How To Create a Movie- Summer Stories (Part 1)

Lights, camera, action! Being a photographer and a writer by trade has always made me a natural fit to get lost in day dreams about making profound films that garner critical acclaim and capture the hearts and minds of an awestruck audience. Back to reality: Ten years into a career and two kids later, building a Hollywood career isn’t much of an option anymore. And self-funding a project that, in all likelihood, could cost almost half a million dollars (from expensive film cameras, even more expensive processing procedures, and editing room rental) my dreams of creating a film of any type or length seemed about as likely as meeting my maker and coming back to blog about it. 

Then something incredible happened:  As my wife and I updated our gear for our wedding business Tin Sparrow Studio I started to hear whispers that the Canon EOS 7Dand 5D Mk IIboth offered video-capture capabilities that had, until that point, not been attainable by ‘normal’ people who didn’t have upwards of thirty thousand dollars to spend on a camera. 

While I waiting for the lovely site of a box laden fed-ex man to approach my door, I hatched my plan: To would create a feature length hybrid documentary, Summer Stories, based solely around the video power of the 7D, a dream to story-tell though the medium of film, and a MacBook Prolaptop.

Now, the idea for Summer Stories came to me when a friend recounted a  memory from decades earlier. He remembered every detail right down to the smell. When Dan spoke I felt as though I was there with him in Miami. It wasn’t like reminiscing, it was something more, something stronger. I could taste the salt air and felt the sun, hot on the back of my neck. He kept on with his story telling, his voice was deeper now and more jovial, as he recounted how the light used to glint of the oil soak skin of the rich women he had once charmed as he delivered their sugary cocktails.

After Dan left my office that day I had a moment to myself. I couldn’t stop smiling—I had enjoyed Dan’s story so much, that it had made me feel as though I were part of it. I thought this was just incredible. So I began asking people questions that I knew would lead to a story, there was a lot of “do you remember when’s” and some “what was it like”. With each story I became more dug in. Before I knew it, I had cataloged over fifteen amazing Summer stories in my head. I couldn’t keep them to myself any longer. I knew that I wanted to find a way for people to share their memories and their moments of the season.

Initially, I thought a photo documentary could capture the essence of Summer, as well as the emotions in people as they recounted these stories. As I dwelled on the idea further it made more sense for to be live-action, and the disappointment set in (again ‘back to reality’). People have certainly made documentaries and short films on much less quality gear than I had, but as I researched my subject matter, I knew my Canon Hv30, even in all its glory, didn’t have the depth of field I’d need, nor the color gamut, or tonal range that would be fitting for a feature piece.

Flash forward 6 months, and in comes in my brand new 7D. I had it outside of the box for as long as it takes to charge the battery before I snapped on my Canon EF 50mm f1.4and began to capture footage. I actually shivered with excitement. The stark beauty of the footage even through the LCD screen was enough confirmation that I would in fact be able to capture stunning footage without the work-arounds, add-ons, and post processing that come along with a mini-DV consumer camcorder (google search: Hv30 cell phone trick, DOF adapter, & controlling gain for a glimpse at these horrors). The results of my ten minute ‘dance’ with my daughter can be seen here:

In the following five part series I will cover the ins and outs of creating a feature length film with the Canon 7D. I will be reviewing the camera in the field, providing a full list of ALL gear used, including camera, lenses, and audio equipment, filling you in on the details of the editing work flow, how to handle the footage from the 7D and how it interacts with software. Plus, you’ll get to see the location for a full day of shooting. My goal for this series is not only to inform but also to encourage you to get out there and push the limits of the new DSLR video technology. Follow along as Summer Stories goes from impossible dream to tangible reality.

For more information about Summer Stories, to donate to the project, or to follow along please click HERE