My name is Alex Fox. I’m a commercial photographer, producer, director, cinematographer and editor. In other words, I’m fortunate enough to have very nice, smart, good-looking people hire me to make pictures for them.
I’ve done work for international brands like LeCreuset cookware, regional icons like the Southern grocery store chain Piggly Wiggly, small local businesses, and everything in between.
For years, I was frustrated with the image quality I could achieve with conventional video cameras. When I graduated from film school in 1999, DVCPro was the state-of-the-art format, and nobody had heard of High Definition.
When Sony released the Z1U, the first affordable HD camcorder (using the HDV format), I jumped on it. The quality was indeed much higher than anything I’d worked with before, but it was still far from 35mm or even 16mm film. Eventually, I upgraded to the full-size Sony S270U, and started using 35mm lens adapters, so that I could get a more cinematic look to my video work. The adapters worked, but the technology was cumbersome, and the quality somewhat unsatisfying.
At the same time that I was working on video projects, I was doing commercial photography work. My camera of choice was the Canon 5D, which captured superb images that – in my mind, certainly – were as good or better than 35mm film. Then, in late 2008, I heard that Canon was releasing a Canon 5D Mark II which was going to have a more rugged body, a higher megapixel image capture … And video capability. I wasn’t sure what this would mean, until I saw Vincent LaForet’s now-legendary short film, “Reverie.”
I immediately realized the implications of this technology. The price-point obstacles that had separated small-time, one-man-band operations like mine from the high-dollar production companies had just gone up in smoke. For the first time in the history of technology, a viewer could not tell whether footage had been shot on a $200,000 camera of a $2,000 camera.
In 2008/2009, my business had been hit very hard by the recession. I couldn’t afford to buy the “5D2,” but I couldn’t afford not to be an early adopter of this incredible new technology. Finally, my wife put an end to my suffering by buying the camera, and putting the purchase on her personal credit card.
Once I started working with the camera, I spent a fair bit of time online, at forums like Cinema5D.com. I noticed that people were asking the same questions over and over. What shutter speed should I use? How do I get decent audio? What kind of tripod should I buy? I also noticed that there were certain questions that 5D2 users were NOT asking. Questions about how to plan a shoot, construct a shot list, or format a script. Aspiring filmmakers were jumping into the deep end without any clue what they were doing, and they were wasting incredible amounts of time.
So, I decided to take my film school degree and my 10+ years of experience and pour them into a crash-course training video that would give beginners all the information they needed to hit the ground running, regardless of the type of projects they were pursuing. Music videos, documentaries, short films, commercials … The creative direction might be different, but the fundamentals of production are largely the same. The fruit of these labors was 5DFilmSchool.
My goal had been to be the first person to release a comprehensive training course. As it turned out, I was the second. Philip Bloom, who had been an even earlier adopter than me, beat me to the punch by about two weeks. Still, 5DFilmSchool got great reviews, and I sold enough copies of it to compensate me for the time and sweat I had put into it. (And I mean sweat … I recorded the program in my studio during a South Carolina summer, and I had to keep the air conditioning off to get clean sound. It was not fun!)
The most rewarding part of the 5DFilmSchool project came when I started receiving emails from satisfied customers who shared with me the videos that they had made using the techniques they had learned from my videos. A guy who did a promo video for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. A Hawaiian musician who created a fantastic music video with his wife. Students and photographers who were proud of the work they had done, and who thanked me for helping them. It was the most gratifying experience of my professional life.
Almost a year has gone by since I started working on 5DFilmSchool. In that year, the whole landscape has changed. The 5D2 is no longer the only kid on the block, as a veritable pantheon of HD-capable DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) and EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens) cameras have flooded the market. Certain issues – the lack of manual controls and industry-standard framerates – have been resolved, and others – issues with audio, moiré and aliasing – have become more apparent.
I have learned more too: when I made 5DFilmSchool, I hadn’t thoroughly explored the theory behind selecting a shutter speed. I rectified this by adding a tutorial video to my website explaining the cinematic shutter.
I followed this with a collection of other tutorials, some of which I recorded myself, and others that I aggregated from various sources on the internet.
My current plan is to create a brand new training course. This one will be more universal in its scope – I’m calling it SLRFilmSchool – and will incorporate all the user feedback I’ve received from 5DFilmSchool and 5DFilmMaking.com over the past year. It’ll be less about camera settings and editing (excellent resources on those topics are freely available on the internet), and more about specific shooting techniques.
In the meantime, I’ll be answering questions and posting tips and tricks on this blog. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but I do have a Twitter account, so if you’re interested in this type of thing, please feel free to subscribe to this blog, or to follow me on the tweeting bird http://twitter.com/vid35. Also, please do post your questions and comments!