Don’t Throw Out Those Old Hard Drives! At Least Not Yet…

To say I have acquired a few external hard drives over the years is an understatement. At last count, over 250 of ‘em are stacked in our vault which range from shuttles to raids storing anything one would generate when making a movie. I still have a few FireWire 400 boxes once considered state-of-the-art even when their most reliable feature was to crap out during a crucial transfer, as I never throw away a working storage device. But seriously, if external drives were made of wood, my studio would resemble 5150 where Dr. Frankenstein himself, Edward Van Halen builds and maintains his world-renowned signatures guitars.

My collection of external hard drives is constantly growing and in turn, evolves with technology. Even with the cost-per-terabyte consistently dropping – and fast – keeping up with the Joneses is expensive, especially when shooting with multiple cameras in now, a 6 or 8K medium and needing to back up everything thrice. Your hard drives are the most important investment you’ll make when choosing how and where to store your work – and ultimately your library which in one day can have substantial value.

Thunderbolt’s arrival shouldn’t deem your outdated hard drives to become doorstops. You can buy inexpensive adaptors from Apple so your FireWire drives can still function without a glitch with the latest computers that have ditched the now, archaic connections altogether. I have been a longtime user of anything G-Technology and will most likely remain so, but recently have fallen in love with Rocstor’s new product line, as they have quite an assortment of drives available that are reliable and considerably more affordable. Their new ROCPRO T24 two-raid storage boxes are by far the most superior, quiet and speedy drives I have ever used and many of my colleagues feel the same.

Filmmaking and Hard Drives


I find them perfect for storing an entire project – literally from concept to delivery – when vaulting your masters as once your film is released into the wild, you can get that call from a distributor needing a resend of a Closed Captioned file or perhaps even some production stills and with that much drive space, it’s nice to reach for one drive, with everything compartmentalized and super easy to access. I am still a huge proponent of keeping at least three copies of every element you create for a project and vaulted at three separate locations. I understand budgets are often tight but this is the first compromise many filmmakers tend to make when trying to stretch a buck and that’s a big no-no!

For the best deals in town, call Mike Hashem at Unitek Mike’s been my go-to corporate account executive for well over a decade. He knows the products inside and out and once getting to know your needs can steer you in the right direction.

Mike’s email is: [email protected]

Tell him I sent ya!


Keep Shootin’



Do What You Love and Love What You Do

I owe much of my career to music videos. When I was younger, I wanted to be a rock star and even toured our great nation as a drummer in bands who opened for acts like Stone Temple Pilots, The Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz. But as I grew older and needed to think about my future, dreams of becoming a rock star were replaced by those of becoming a filmmaker. I know, I know, that’s a classic case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire. I’ll admit, I never wanted to direct, let alone shoot camera – I didn’t have the desire and frankly didn’t want to make myself a target of criticism. Producing, editing, and writing were enough for me until Bret Michaels asked if I’d shoot some footage for his first single as a solo artist during Poison’s hiatus. The footage we shot looked good, so we went to The Panavision Stages and added his performance to the video. Upon its release, the song Raine became a hit single – and so did our music video that got a lot of coveted airtime and yours truly decided to put the all-encompassing filmmaker hat on once and for all.  

I should mention at this point the music video business was quite grim. MTV and even VH1 were no longer making them a focal point on their networks and YouTube wasn’t even yet on the radar, so labels were putting their resources into other forms of marketing to push their artists. In the early 2000’s, I would get the occasional call from a record label to do a video, however, they weren’t paying much of anything. In fact, a major label attached to one of the movie studios asked if I would re-shoot (as in completely re-do) a music video for the title track to one of their biggest film franchises and had the nerve after two creative meetings and getting the job they weren’t paying a dime. Heck, I wasn’t the guy who botched up the first video, (which had a budget of $50,000) but work for free? I’ll save that for another blog down the road…Oh, and to add insult to injury, the film went on to make over $230M – domestic.

Fortunately, music videos have made quite the comeback. But let’s face it; unless your working with artists such as Taylor Swift, Imagine Dragons or Drake, it’s for the love of the craft, not the love of the cash that we do them. By enlarge low budget videos are the norm which have become tools to help drive up a band’s social media presence, a tour or iTunes sales. I do in part blame that annoying (yet, brilliant) treadmill video by OK Go – as it really killed it for so many of us who made a living producing videos with budgets and proved that so often less is more by going viral way before going viral was even a thing. I mean we were doing videos for bands you’ve never heard of (or ever will) for $25-50 grand and after that, $1,500 became the standard.

Recently, I had the itch to do a music video. Blame the failed rock star in me but the heart wants what the heart wants. It had been almost a decade since my last torrid romp in videoville, (not including a concert I filmed for Cheap Trick in Chicago) but I really missed shooting a band with no restrictions, no rules and in that let’s go kick some ass and blow the lid off it’ type of way. You know, the kind of videos momma used to make? I got wind heavy metal heartthrobs Vixen was gearing up to release a live album with a few studio tracks and were heading out on tour to support it. I went into action, reached out to the band and said, “Let’s do a video! Just show up to the designated venue and I’ll handle the rest.” Long story short, I couldn’t be happier with the results. As you know from my previous blogs and what I drive home in my book, What You Don’t Learn in Film School, it’s about staying busy (or relevant) and doing what you love. Once I got the go-ahead from the band, their management and record label, I wrangled three great cameramen and we went to work capturing the band’s sold-out show in Los Angeles.

A month later, on July 26th, Vixen’s video for “You Ought To Know By Now” debuted and had over 50,000 hits in the first day of its release – and the numbers keep climbing. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out, putting your skills and recourses to use. When you’re done with that, go shoot something else and afterward do it again and so on and so on. Dream projects are great but there’s no reason not to be an active and busy filmmaker. But if you’re anything like me, you become passionate about every project you set your hands to and look at every gig as an audition or opportunity for the next. Oh, and speaking of that, a top management firm who reps over two dozen well-known bands saw the new video and reached out offering me to handle videos for their entire roster. Why? Because I got off my ass and generated content. It’s as simple as that! 

Thank you Vixen for your trust and here’s to a summer of prosperity to us all!

Keep Rockin’ and happy shooting kids!



Director with Camera


Patience may be a virtue but it gets nothing accomplished

One thing I’ve always believed is if you have a camera and a subject, you’re good to go. Come on, think about it…Sure, it’d be nice to have a soundman, hair and makeup department and production designers along with a handful of other people and honey wagons supporting your mission but when the rubber meets the road, how much of that is really necessary to telling a story? Don’t get me wrong, I am proponent of having a capable crew on hand (especially a crack soundman) and value each and every one of them but this blog isn’t about the crew, it’s about you, the ever encompassing filmmaker telling the story you want – better yet – need to tell.

I recently attended Outfest at the Directors Guild of America here in Los Angeles and had the pleasure of seeing the motion picture מונטנה (that’s “Montana” for those who don’t read Hebrew) and upon hearing the Q&A with filmmaker Limor Shmila, I was reminded of something I preach constantly: “Don’t wait for anyone to give you the go-ahead to tell your story, just tell it.” Limor’s film was very well done on a shoestring budget and filmed in just thirteen days. It was also selected for the Toronto International Film Festival–in case you’re wondering if it’s worth seeing. Of course, there are films that require huge budgets (and crew) to get done properly but I am not talking about those; I’m talking about telling stories that touch the human heart and can launch new filmmakers into the stratosphere. You know, old school storytelling!

Some of the most impacting films I saw as a kid while trying to find my way were ones that just consisted of human beings captured on camera doing extraordinary things. Academy Award nominated films like Mike Hoover’s Solo and Skaterdater, which launched Noel Black’s career had huge influences on my desire to become a filmmaker and proved you don’t need a ton of money or large crews to achieve it. Nowadays when you can pick up your iPhone (or a DSLR at Costco), a laptop to edit on and have the World Wide Web at your fingertips as a distribution platform, there is no stopping you.

Director and crew on set

Shane, cast, and crew on set.

Recently I had the pleasure of filming some segments for a cool project called Southern Decadence with producer Gina Rugolo. For my scenes, I wanted a skeleton crew and got my wish – a cast of two and a crew of three – not including the picture car owner. I’m very pleased with the end results and would proudly put our work up against any film within a mid six-figure budget and frankly, couldn’t have enjoyed the experience more. In fact, I’m already digging through my script archives to see what I can do next for little to no money. As I mention in my book, there’s making movies and there’s talking about making movies. Personally, I would rather make ‘em, and the only person getting in the way of doing that is you.

Happy Shooting!


Camera Dollies vs. Sliders

When deciding on a portable camera dolly system, there are more options for filmmakers now than ever. With crew sizes shrinking and people favoring to drive compact eco-friendly cars, this makes traditional dollies less practical, especially when transporting them from location-to-location. The production value a ‘slider’ can add is similar in ways to a dolly without the hassle of needing a small army to manage it. One person can easily assemble a slider, and simply ‘dolly’ the camera while shooting with very little effort, often avoiding a communication relay during time-sensitive or subtle movements – especially for the less experienced or micro crew.

As someone who loves a ready, willing, and able JL Fisher handy, at times production restraints have forced me to opt for alternative tools like sliders, especially when traveling to shoot commercials or film music videos in tight spaces with little to no support in the camera department. When in a pinch, I choose Dana Dolly, which can easily withstand the weight of an Arri or Red with all of the bells and whistles as well as any DSLR setup you can possibly concoct. Because of its solid design, with Dana Dolly you won’t get herky-jerky camera moves when using it to tell your story, even while executing the subtlest creep-ins as you can with some of the other brands. They also make curved rails and hi-hat conversions that really set them apart from the competition.


Traveling with the Dana Dolly is a breeze. You can use the case available on their website or by packing everything into a small suitcase and buying speed rail (conduit pipe) at various lengths at any hardware store upon arriving at your destination. Since rails are cheap, throwing them out or donating them to a local filmmaker won’t break the bank when you leave to return home.




When it comes to color grading your project, there are several user-friendly options available that won’t break the bank. I believe a good colorist is as important to your project as a cinematographer but if you want to paint your own canvas and stay on the DIY trail, you might find the story of my latest mishap helpful in deciding which platform to choose.



Recently during the sales agent’s quality control of our film, The Untold Story the lab discovered a series of shots that needed to be re-done due to some digital imperfections in the 4K colored master output. Unfortunately because of time restraints, the studio that originally did the work was unable to fit us in to repair the issues in the timeframe we needed to deliver them back to our sales agent for Cannes. We’ll save that for another post – one that will focus on vendors delivering on their promises or guarantees and their own in-house QC methods…


Anywho, as most of you know, DaVinci Resolve leads the charge with many professional color houses and freelance colorists. You can download a free version of the software on your own rig with very little headache and give it a spin within a few minutes. I will say, DaVinci does take time to learn, especially for a hack like me who barely knows his way around Photoshop or the other programs nested within Adobe’s Creative Cloud. But DaVinci is a very valuable tool for any independent filmmaker, especially those who wear several hats and doesn’t rely on outsiders to do the finishing touches on their projects.


What I did to solve our delivery deadline problem was drop the original 4K media back into Premier Pro and painted the shots myself using Lumetri, the color software that resides within the edit program. I matched them perfectly to what was previously colored (on DaVinci) and the outputs passed through the strict QC house with flying colors (sorry, I couldn’t resist that little quip). I was extremely pleased with the results and it was a fairly quick and pain free process I was able to complete at my home studio. So if you’re looking to experiment in the color realm, what you need might already be at your fingertips in Adobe’s Creative Cloud.




When prepping Paloma’s Flight helmed by 5-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, Lee Stanley and starring martial arts phenom Amy Johnston, we had few options for cameras because our partners in Mexico had us on a tight schedule with a skeleton crew. Due to travel logistics, customs, and a host of other reasons, we needed to go the compact 4K/Ultra-HD route and our choice ultimately narrowed between the SONY A7sii and Panasonic Lumix GH5.


Both are leaders in their class and run mirrorless systems. Cinematographers from Europe I consulted favored the Panasonic while my fellow countrymen in the states leaned toward Sony. Our camera team, primarily from Mexico, was split so at the end of the day it was up to yours truly to ultimately decide. I hadn’t shot with compact HD cameras since my Dark Side days almost a decade before and wow, they have come light years since – literally. We tested both cameras during our scout and because the project included several low-light exterior night scenes, it was crystal clear which camera was better suited for the job. I chose the SONY simply because of its low light values which were a step above the Panasonic’s and enabled minimal noise and impressive sensitivity due to its 12MP full-frame sensor. This was especially important considering Paloma’s Flight had several action scenes in low, exterior light where we were often relying on either available light coming from nearby buildings or just headlights from a vehicle.





If low light exterior night scenes hadn’t been so prominent in the show, I would have chosen the Panasonic preferring its exterior daylight imagery as well as in naturally lit interior daylight scenes. In addition, the Panasonic’s images along the Baja coast were slightly superior but luckily at the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to take a bad shot next to the Sea of Cortez. I don’t think you can lose with either one, but before pulling the trigger on an expensive and ever so important filmmaking tool, think about what kind of projects you’re going to make moving forward and if possible, rent a few cameras if your schedule and budget allow at a place like lensrentals.com where you can do side-by-side comparisons and make an informed decision.




After cutting faithfully on Avid for over a decade before launching Visual Arts Entertainment, I made the switch to Final Cut Pro, as saving $40,000 weighed huge when starting a new company. For me, it suited our needs and the transformation was easy, but Final Cut had a stigma and was viewed as a toy for wannabes until 3-time Academy Award winner Walter Murch sliced Cold Mountain on the Mac-based platform finally giving it credibility within ‘legitimate’ Ho-Ho Wood.



But in 2011, Apple gave editors the big F-you by launching Final Cut X, catering to laptop possessing Youtubers. X was incompatible with projects created on previous versions and lacked several tools-of-the-trade features the traditional setup had. Many editors (including Murch) defected while some of us numbskulls continued working on the outdated 7 platform hoping someone in Silicon Valley would pull their head out of their keester and revitalize the Pro version. But our hopes were never realized.


I’m a creature of habit and limped along with my pet dinosaur for another five years until finishing The Untold Story. It wasn’t until our post team demanded I abandoned Final Cut or they’d abandon me due to their frustrations wrestling with endless compatibility issues syncing it with the latest technology coming from Red, DiVinci Resolve and Pro Tools.


So I had to make a choice – Avid or Adobe – and I had to choose quickly as we were beginning prep for our next motion picture, Mistrust. As production approached, I needed to choose a system to replace my lifeless Final Cut Pro. I called God’s gift to Kevin James and Avid guru, Scott Hill who allowed me some quality time on his machine. I was all thumbs and my frustration grew with every keystroke I attempted. A disappointment considering I had quite a history with Avid. Maybe it had just been too many years…


A friend of mine who works at CBS offered me a spin on the new and improved Adobe Premiere platform. He had been an Avid and Final Cut man since I met him years ago and made the switch upon landing at the network. From the moment I sat in the cockpit I felt right at home; like an iron chef with a fine set cutlery. The fact you can set the layout to replicate Final Cut Pro or Avid minimizing the learning curve was awesome. Check out Maxim Jago’s informative vlog here.


Before pulling the trigger, I called several post-houses to discuss the pros and cons of both platforms. When the dust settled, I chose Adobe and haven’t looked back since. Is it better? For me, it is. But all you should care about is what’s best for you. Do your homework and think ahead as to how you plan to grow as a filmmaker and what will best serve your needs now and in the future. We had zero compatibility issues and post-production on Mistrust went smoother than any other picture I can recall in over 25 years.