Blog, business, film/video, Pasadena and local, post production for film and video, sound

Fantastic Gala film produced by Hearken Creative

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 4.24.00 PMBACKSTORY

A while back, Christopher Min and I were asked to create a 10-year anniversary film for The Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. The film was to be shown at a gala reception honoring the founding donors for the Center, Bill & Dee Brehm. We wanted to show the rich diversity of graduates the program was raising over the course of the first decade.

Chris directed, and Loren Roberts/Hearken Creative provided all the equipment, shooting expertise, and editing for the final video.


The result was a smashing success at the event — one attendee said it was a “moving tribute” to the Brehms and the Center. The only issue we had was cutting down the incredible footage we got with the graduates. I think our first edit clocked in at almost 16 minutes; the final edit is a still-long (but beautiful) nine minutes.


We have done this kind of work for non-profit and for-profit companies time and again. How can we help your organization?

Blog, business, film/video, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound

Another nice quick video for a client

We filmed this last week in West Covina. Joe (president of Asian Access) is so smooth on camera. We interviewed him for 45 minutes for another project, and then he did just a few takes of this quick “thank you” before I had to run to another shoot in Downtown L.A.

Great time. Good video, good audio. Great message.

Blog, business, portfolio, post production for film and video, sound

New video projects

Two quick video projects that I had the pleasure of working on over the last week.


First up was a quick web video post for the president of Asian Access. He wanted to say “thank you” to the many people who have already donated money to the relief efforts going on in northern Japan after the Sendai earthquake in March 2011. So I raced out to his office and filmed him:

TECHNICAL DETAILS: This was filmed with the Canon EOS 7D, using the “kit lens” — an 28-135mm. Sound was handled using a Zoom H4n with an Audio Technica AT897 microphone. Footage was transcoded to ProRes LT using the wonderful 5DtoRGB app with a command-line batch processor provided by French video production company NoSide. The whole thing was sync’d and edited in Final Cut Pro, and exported to H.264 via Compressor.


I did a 12-part videolog series with Nimbus and this same composer back in 2008, and they are back with a new composition that Nimbus will premiere. We’re in a rush, so there’s only one video, and I shot a rehearsal for a few hours this week, followed by a very brief interview. But the piece will be instrumental in advertising the concert:

TECHNICAL DETAILS: Much the same as the previous piece, except I used a host of lenses: a 50mm f1.4 prime (I used this a lot because the room was pretty dark, but I didn’t want to raise my ISO too much and get grainy footage), a Canon EF-S 18-55mm, and a Canon EF-S 55-250mm. Sound was captured 4-channel using the Zoom’s onboard mics plus the AT897 and a Sennheiser lav (but the interview was done with the AT897 — I love the sound of that mic compared to a lav).

All-in-all, a pretty busy but fun week of budget-conscious filmmaking. Every project that we do gets easier, more fun, and give us invaluable experience for the next one.

Today I’ll be taking my equipment and doing an outdoor photoshoot for a band I’m in (stills, not video). Can’t wait to share those…

Blog, business, graphic design, portfolio

How we get from point A to point B, or, how a CD package design comes into being

Well, I’m finishing up another CD this week, but the T-Lou CD is out and people liked the art, so I’m going to talk through how we came to the final art. Oh, and by the way, if you want to buy the album on iTunes, you can do it here. Unsure when the CD is going to show up on Amazon…

Initial Design Brief

First, we’ll talk about what the client brought to the table. They wanted something that said “party” and “Zydeco” and “fun” with the artist front and center, since it’s been a really long time since his last record. We needed to position the talent front and center. The producer sent me a few dozen images as reference, which included:

Essentially, focus on bright colors that conjure a Louisiana feel and the outsized personality of T-Lou.


My first recommendation was to schedule a photo shoot with T-Lou. The images from the studio (taken with a good camera by the producer) were still not good enough to make beautiful key art, so we needed new photography. Fortunately, I’ve been doing quite a bit of work with my new Canon 7D, so we scheduled the shoot and went to work. Several hundred shots later, here are some of the highlights:

So we now have great key art: the artist and the producer were both really happy with the proofs from the shoot.

First Design Presentation

Now it was my turn to interpret what feel they were looking for. Let’s look at some of the different concept pieces that I presented to the artist and the producer at our first design presentation:

Interestingly, the first proof is the one that is closest to the final. I went for a big and bold typeface, an image of T-Lou loving’ life and playin’ music, and some “dancing” crabs to tie into the album’s title. I was unsure about the crabs, because they kinda looked like the tripod aliens from Wells’ “War of the Worlds,” but this was first proof territory, so everything is fair game.

Now I got even bolder and funkier. There were these pictures where T-Lou just looks badass, so I married that up with some distressed type and some pretty heavy color correction (lots of desaturation, but adding contrast), and we get this beautiful bold look. But then why can’t I take it one step further?…

I think this might be my favorite design from the first round. I made the T-Lou art bigger and happier, and pulled all the color out of his photo. All of a sudden he pops off the CD cover. Still using distressed type on the artist name, but really clean on the album title. Simple and bold…perfect.

But my concern with the previous art was that it was getting way too non-traditional for a genre that has lots of tradition in it. So I tried a few looks that sit more comfortably within the established “look” of Zydeco artists. This first one has some issues, because T-Lou feels a little too low, and the ratio/balance between him, his name, and the album title just seems off. But still a good exercise, and if the client had liked it, we could have worked all of those issues out…

And then I went completely traditional. We added a sepia look to a non-retouched photo, did the “type on a curve” thing that lots of oldies/traditional albums do, and still added a crab — more now as just a graphic element — to keep it fun and tied-in with the album title.

Still loving the “badass T-Lou” look, I couldn’t resist doing something completely different. This keeps my mind fresh, and shows the client that there are options out there. If they don’t like something here, we can go a completely different direction. I had downloaded the curly background art from iStockphoto a few weeks previous for another project (that didn’t end up getting made) — it was originally blue — repurposed it for this proof by making it gold/brown and framing the artist. The type glows; the whole thing says “me and my accordion are not to be messed with.” Cool.

So wait, I had pretty much ignored the “let’s make it colorful” request from the client, so I did one with everything but the kitchen sink. The mardi gras feathers, some New Orleans brick in the background, a wood sign from a beach somewhere — making it bold and messy and colorful.

You will notice that I didn’t just present the artwork in a square on a piece of paper. I snagged a CD I had photographed from another project, and superimposed the T-Lou artwork onto that photograph. I believe that one extra step — making the art look like the final packaging — gives the client a much better idea of what his CD will look like once everything is done and shipping.

Client Reactions + Second Round of Proofs

Well, the clients flipped — they loved that first round of proofs. The energy, the photography, even lots of the typefaces chosen, were really making T-Lou excited.

They loved the crabs, but didn’t think they were “fun” enough, so I suggested maybe adding some cartoon eyes that I had found but discarded while working on the first set of design ideas. They liked that. So we decided to work on revising the first proof to everyone’s liking.

T-Lou comes from Louisiana, and really wanted the Louisiana coast to play a large role in the art. While almost all of the backgrounds are of Gulf Coast beaches, I had bleached out the colors of the backgrounds to focus attention on the artist. T-Lou said no, we want to see the blue of the ocean and the sky; adding back more colors would get us to that “make it colorful” initial request, too.

T-Lou also doesn’t like sans serif typefaces that much; he likes the refinement and formality of serif type better. So I needed to give him some options with different typefaces, since that first proof had the really big, thick, sans serif type for the “T-LOU” at the top.

So here is what we delivered for a second round:

Blue ocean, crabs with cartoon eyes, curved serif type across the top. Nice.

Maybe using the beach/weathered wood signpost plus the cartoon-y crabs? And we have a really bold typeface for “T-LOU,” but it still has serifs on it. Tricky, aren’t I?

Now here I have used the same design as above, but changed the colors up to see what happens. The light green allows the crabs to move to the forefront (the yellow was pretty strong), but I’m still not sure if the balance is right.

Ah, so the honkin’ big type was the problem. Pull that out, and replace it with a very refined slab serif, and the balance between all of the elements on the cover works out. So what did we accomplish? A few things:

  • lots of color,
  • T-Lou looking awesome and havin’ a great time,
  • a proper balance between his name, his photo, the crabs, and the album title,
  • a Louisiana coastal feel
  • the crabs with the cartoon eyes ensure that you know this album isn’t taking itself too seriously; in fact, you know that this guy likes to have fun.

The finished product! If I get around to it, I’ll take pictures of the traycard and CD face, which look awesome too. But for now, we see how I got from the client’s initial design brief to the final product. Everyone is very pleased with the outcome.

Blog, business, post production for film and video, sound

What Hearken Creative did (is doing) this summer, Part 3

Well, I can’t say “did” for this one, since we’re still in production. I’m associate producer on a quirky little film called “Not That Funny” starring Tony Hale (Arrested Development, Chuck, and a bunch of other stuff). Here’s a breakdown of what I am working on during this film:

  • Recorded all production sound for the first week of shooting (before our wonderful sound guy showed up)
  • Managing/devising digital workflow for the production and post-production
  • Assisting with social media and web presence for the film
  • Renting Hearken equipment to the production (KinoFlo Diva Lights, Canon 7D, microphones, batteries, cards, hard drives, etc.)
  • Assisting in whatever way I can on a small shoot, sometimes as a production assistant, sometimes as a driver, sometimes schlepping crafts service, sometimes…?

The cast and crew of this tiny pic are wonderful, and I’m honored to be working with them all. I can’t wait to show you some of the production stills, and get this film finished so everyone can see it.

Blog, business, post production for film and video, sound

Looking to start building my own stage sound components…

Okay, so HCS has a bunch of Sennheiser and Shure wireless mic systems, like the awesome G2 series from Sennheiser. But the problem is that the wire that these manufacturers use is shoddy, and usually the mics are destroyed after just one run of performances. (They work better for ENG-style work — which is what I do most of the time — because the cable doesn’t get jostled around as much.) So I’m trying to figure out how to purchase or build my own mics for stage uses.

And then I found this awesome company called CPC in the UK (courtesy of the Blue Room stage discussion board), and they have cheapie replacement microphones, both the lav kind and the headworn kind. But I am not sure if they can ship cheaply to the U.S.; so, I am looking for a U.S. company that can supply these mics, or something comparable. I’m even willing to solder my own connectors onto them, to save even more money.

The reason that this came up is that I was doing sound design for the Pasadena Summer Musical Theater production for a few weeks earlier this summer. The body mics got a real workout, going on and off multiple children each day for rehearsals and performances. Several mics didn’t make it through the two week run, and the culprit was always the juncture where the cable meets the connector. So I was thinking that it might be good to make my own, or find a new microphone/cable combination that will be able to withstand the rigors of stage performances.

I have an e-mail out to CPC in the U.K., but I am willing to entertain any options — either here or overseas — that can help me replace or build newer and better mics for the Sennheiser or Shure systems.

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Where will camera technology go next?

It has been several years since I purchased the cameras that we use at HCS to film video. They are not HD, they are not new, and yet they get the job done, and usually the footage looks really good to the client. But at some point in time, we will have to upgrade to HD. The camera prices have come down, and the compression codecs are getting better and better, and easier for the computers to handle too.

So why wait? Well, I’m confused about where HD is going to go.

On the one side, we have these cool new DSLR cameras (like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II shown here, or the equally cool Nikon D300) that shoot stills and video. Why is this cool? Because DSLRs have large lenses and large imaging sensors, meaning you can go for shallow depth-of-field looks and lower light, and get absolutely stunning results. (Check out this incredible action footage shot by Robert Bösch to promote the D300.) It also means you can shoot stills and video with the same equipment. But the downsides, for me, all have to do with integration of professional features like timecode and audio capabilities. I would rather not have to send all my audio through a tiny 1/8″ stereo microphone jack (although that’s what I do on the Canon GL2), and there isn’t any timecode available. Many of these DSLR/video cameras also limit the framerate (often 30fps) and resolution (sometimes only 720p and not 1080p) that can be captured. But the price-to-performance ratio is hard to resist if you can find suitable workarounds for these setbacks.

On the other side, the lower-end professional film camera market is so close to breaking wide open, that I am compelled to wait before spending any money. Red Camera‘s Scarlet, when it comes out, is going to run circles around current camera options. And right now, there are several sub-$1000 cameras that could shoot entire feature films. We’re looking at the Sony PMW-EX3 for shooting our next film. (See this great video review, and click over to his camera tests as well.) And we still have Panasonic’s AG-HVX200A, which was one of the first HD cameras that could shoot at multiple frame rates (and related to my current DVX100A — which is a bonus in terms of learning curve on a new camera). And JVC’s GY-HM700 is another strong contender, which shoots directly into a native Final Cut Pro format (woohoo! no more wasted time logging and capturing!)(see this review) that will street for around $7000. (Here’s another interesting comparison about the merits of both the EX3 and the GY-HM700.)

So, when and what to buy? Not yet, because I have no projects that require the new equipment just yet. And, when that next project comes around, we’ll take a look at what the requirements are, and how each of these solutions might fill those requirements.

Blog, business, post production for film and video

Is product placement doomed by the recession?

I always thought that the product tie-ins for Chuck and Heroes were kinda funny (I don’t even remember what companies they were!), but I didn’t know that the whole concept of product placement as a viable advertising vehicle was going to go away. And then this morning, Jeep decided to cut its losses in the wake of Chrysler’s financial situation, and not promote the phenomenal tie-in of the Jeep in the new Terminator movie.

It’s funny. They are in deep financial distress, and really need to keep selling cars in order for a Chapter 11 to work (or else they have no reason to do a reorg). But it’s hard to continue to advertise when there’s no money to spend. How to solve it?

I find some of my clients in a similar position: unable to make more money, but unable to advertise to bring new clients in. It’s a tough economic climate we’re in, and some of the things that we have done to help clients are:

  • cut costs of design and production,
  • cut costs of printing and other buyouts,
  • advise on ways to maximize the return on investment for advertising, and
  • create flexible payment plans for our clients.

We hope this helps keep some of our customers coming back for more projects with Hearken Creative, and we hope that your company is weathering this storm well.

Blog, business, graphic design, post production for film and video

"Who cares that your film get made?"

The L.A. Times had an interesting piece run a few weeks ago about the declining availability of funding for film projects. It’s not pretty, and with the current economic crisis, it’s not going to get better anytime soon. So how do we fund new films? Dawn Hudson from Film Independent was interviewed in the story:

Hudson’s group advised one filmmaker who was discovered later to be financing his film with the profits from his hydroponic pot farm and another who was trying to raise money from the Russian mob, though she declines to name them for obvious reasons.

“We had a filmmaker who mortgaged his grandmother’s house. That’s a sad story,” Hudson says, but not uncommon.

“We do a whole forum around these cautionary tales.”

The only other option for small filmmakers is to push the budget lower and lower. But, speaking as one of those people who have to work with the lower and lower budgets, at some point, I throw in the towel. A low budget usually means people work for free or drastically reduced salaries, and that doesn’t put food on the table. Again, from the article:

Hits made for less than $1 million dollars include “The Blair Witch Project” and “Napoleon Dynamite,” not to mention cult and art-house favorites. But the financial failures are too numerous to count, particularly because many of these films never get distribution.

So with The Fair Trade movie, we have cleared one hurdle: we actually have (home video) distribution. But how do we market the thing, when we are working off even less than a shoestring budget?

I’m spending the rest of the year attempting to figure out our (HCS‘s) business model. Because this past year hasn’t worked. Books I have been reading are Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business. Made to Stick is encouraging, Crowdsourcing is completely discouraging because essentially every industry that I have taken the business into is being invaded by amateurs. And, while I don’t necessarily think that the word amateur is a bad word, I still hate the fact that people are giving away services (design, photography, film, music, etc.) for free (or almost free) while I am attempting to make a living for my family from those same services. Hence, it’s time to figure out HCS’s new business model.