We really like MZED’s one-day practical seminars, including Alex’s first tour back in 2013. What’s different in Visual Storytelling 2? Among other things, the confidence and ambition to share learnings from his mistakes. But that’s not all.
Alex Buono, DP of the Saturday Night Live Film unit; DP on the documentary BIGGER, STRONGER, FASTER; DP and Co-Producer on GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS; and now DP and Co-Director on the new TV series “Documentary Now!” has tremendous real world experience – and the scar tissue to prove it.
I had a chance to chat with Alex ahead of the tour, and he was in a sharing mood. He gave me an example of that scar tissue with an anecdote while filming JOHNNY FLYNTON, an Oscar-nominated short he DP’ed.
His story was informative, funny – and inspiring.
“Mistakes are subjective,” Alex begins. “When you’ve shot something and you’re watching it down with an audience, you’ll know things they’ll never know that can drive you crazy…We’re hardest on ourselves.
“JOHNNY FLYNTON was the catapult, the momentum for getting GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS made,” Alex continues, “and I made a huge exposure blunder. There was nothing we could do. This was back in the days of film. It was underexposed, muddy. We couldn’t cut it out, we could improve it a bit in post, but it totally stands out in the middle of the scene as a mistake. I calculated the neutral density filter correction incorrectly.
“A year and a half later, I forgot to change the shutter angle in the middle of a critical fight sequence in GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS, and there’s Elijah Wood’s face, underexposed. You can’t correct everything in post.”
We all learn from our mistakes, and it’s great when we can learn from someone else’s!
These days Alex is shooting and co-directing “Documentary Now,” a half-hour scripted comedy series with many of the same people he’s worked with for years like Reese Thomas, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Seth Myers.
And with these responsibilities, Alex continues to learn, grow and share.
“There’s less budget than you might expect for the series, so all of us are wearing multiple hats,” Alex tells me. The lesson? “We just had to get it done.”
It’s a fitting experience that he has leveraged into Visual Storytelling 2.
Last time out, Alex and crew had – probably literally – a ton of gear.
This time, they’re traveling lighter, and will be demonstrating how you can do more with less.
Even so, it just wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t talk at least a little bit about gear.
“We had so many different looks for this series. We wanted to create the visual style of NANOOK OF THE NORTH from the 1920’s. A 1970s Eagles documentary style…
“A majority of network TV shows are all shot on the same gear, an ARRI Alexa and an Optimo lens, everyone using the same LUT. A lot of these shows are kind of homogenized. I wanted to add character, to avoid that ‘same-i-ness’ and I’m using lenses to do it. I find myself varying lenses more than camera bodies these days.”
And again: “You can’t do it all in post.”
“It’s like we’re all dying for something sentimental. Everyone’s shooting on an iPhone through some kind of filtering like on Instagram,” Alex remarks. “It’s what people want. It’s what people react to. We actually did a number of shots on this series using the iPhone and an app called Super 8 to get a specific vintage feel.”
But even if the iPhone is now part of his repertoire, it’s clear that what Alex really loves is the the character, “the aberrations” that come from vintage glass that “you can’t get any other way” — and interacting with the those lenses directly.
“I have a great relationship with our rental house. They not only determined what was the exact lens used on a reference film for the look we were trying to achieve, they went out and got it. The exact same lens – a 1961 Angenieux.”
How did that make you feel, I ask him.
“You put it on, and you just go ‘Wow.’ Yup, that’s it.”
If you can spare the time and budget, you should spend the day with him.
Alex Buono’s Visual Storytelling 2–Official Tour Trailer
Alex Buono’s Visual Storytelling 2 Tour will expand your filmmaking abilities by immersing you in an all-day learning experience about the principles of Visual Style and Subtext. From his fast-turn around schedule as the DP of the SNL Film Unit to his role as the Co-Director/DP of the new IFC comedy series Documentary Now!, Alex is constantly challenged to recreate different looks. In this workshop, Alex will share his approach to shooting distinct visual styles with hands-on demonstrations that utilize attendees as the crew. By understanding the visual patterns for different film genres and how to manifest each style through both lighting and camerawork, you will harness the power of visual cues for your own projects. Most importantly, you will learn how to modify light quality and direction, color temperature, lens choices, camera movement and more through a modest set of portable and affordable tools and techniques that you can immediately apply to your own work.
Learn more about Alex Buono’s Visual Storytelling 2 Here.
(cover photo credit: snap from the video)