Thursday, July 5, 2007

Collaboration part 2

One of the first big breaks I had as a TV commercial director was shooting a Windex commercial. It came about very fast- another director was supposed to do it, but I got the call on a Saturday morning and we shot the following Thursday. Casting was Monday and Tuesday, we built a set Tuesday and Wednesday and shot Thursday while the paint was still wet. We transferred film on Friday and it was cut and finished the following Tuesday.

It’s a spot many of you have seen. A man and a woman are cleaning windows, she is using Windex and the man is using “the other leading brand.” Her window gets so clean, the plant growing between them bends over to the cleaner window. Hilarity ensues and viewers race to the store to buy more Windex.

As a filmmaker and a film watcher I really like to believe what I see with my own eyes. I don’t really care for Special FX and in these days of green screen and computers it is very easy to create a new reality. So, when it came time to make the plant move, I wanted to make a real plant, really move. I didn’t want some sort of rigged animatronic plant. I had no idea how to do this (see the posts above about my lack of technical skills) but the beauty of working on a film set is that if you hire the right people, someone will be able to figure it out.

Enter Jeff Renfro, an otherwise unremarkable grip, gaffer, and handyman. After lots of discussion with the ad agency, the producer, Jim and anyone else with two cents, Jeff suggested the simplest of all solutions- fishing line. We strung two pieces of line to the plants, sat off camera and on cue gave it a tug and like magic the plant moved to the clean window. After about three takes Jeff added a change. He pulled the taller branch over first, waited a beat and then pulled the lower part towards him. When they added the music, it was just the right extra beat and chuckle the spot needed.

I would like to say it was great direction that made this happen, but the truth is it was, as always, a collaborative venture. We had worked with Jeff enough to know what he could do, and he was comfortable enough to come up with the simple solution while everyone around him was over thinking the problem. While just doing his job, he made me look good.

Thanks Jeff.


Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I am going to devote a few posts to collaboration. I think too many young filmmakers feel the need to do everything themselves- write, shoot, produce, direct, edit. But that's not how good films are made. Films are made by people with a diverse range of talents coming together to contribute their own piece of the puzzle. The group is stronger than any individual member. (This is probably why we have never had a great Ringo Starr or Charlie Watts solo album.)

I tell students they do not have to know how to do everything, they just have to develop
the language to get what they want. This is often a hard lesson to learn and with the advances in technology sometimes I feel it is an uphill battle because it is so much easier for a beginning filmmaker to be a one-man band.

In one of my first posts I described how Jim and I began working together. He was shooting a TV commercial for a production company I worked for and he saw the longer form version of Denny Dent. He liked it and suggested I edit it to 30 seconds. He invited me to his home a few days later to cut it and we have been working together ever since.

That was 15 years ago.

Our collaboration could have easily lasted only a few hours but we hit it off right away and together we were better than apart. We had enough in common as filmmakers (how we approach an edit or shooting a job- we always look to tell a story) that we didn't have to reinvent the filmmaking wheel. Jim takes on pieces of the puzzle like shooting, lead editor and even billing, that I couldn't do as well as he does and I write, conceptualize and schmooze with the clients. Together we somehow make it work.

Over the next few posts I am going to share some stories about key crew members who have made very subtle, yet very important contributions to projects we have worked on. My hope is that you will see how collaboration makes the work better.


Monday, July 2, 2007


Everyone who knows me, knows I am all about the latest and greatest technology. I must have the fastest computer, the most gadgets and toys, and be connected to the internet all the time. I just can't get enough.

That noise you all just heard is everyone who knows me laughing their heads off because in reality I am a Luddite. Sure, I have a computer- a pretty good one, though a couple of years old- and I know how to surf the web, but that's about it. Jim covers me technology-wise at work, the IT guys at school and teaching assistants in the classroom.

So, with that as a preamble, I got an iphone over the weekend and it's pretty cool, especially for a boring old guy like myself. I have barely scratched the surface of what it can do but here is a mini-review. Aesthetically it is great. A little smaller than I imagined, a black front with a silver back. A nice weight to it. Functionally it was very easy to set up and get going. There are hardly any instructions I just followed my nose.

I heard about problems with the keyboard- it's not tactile- but it wasn't an issue for me. There is a smart function so when I typed Windu for Windy, it corrected me. The internet was great. A few button pushes and I was on the Windy Cine website watching our demo reel in the middle of the park. A few more pushes later I was reading this blog. It wasn't DSL fast, but middle of the park connected to nothing, on my phone it was plenty fast.

I haven't played with the ipod or the video functions yet, I need to update my operating system first, but the biggest drawback so far is the ATT network. Its reach is not as good as other providers. My other concern is that I don't get carried away with surfing the net as I drive down Lake Shore Drive. I can see the headline now, "Dumb filmmaker101 kills himself while Googling himself."