Baby Steps, 1,000ft in the Air

My career-bucket list is officially growing at twice the rate of it being accomplished, 

Last week I had the pleasure of crossing off one of those line items though. However, it was something that I really didn’t think would happen this early in my life. (anything IS possible) Last week Joe Adams and I were brought 1000 ft up in a R44 Helicopter to shoot a few aerials of Fairfield University’s campus. Now the trip was mainly for stills but we decided to shoot video at the same time. (Thank you Casey Timmeny for making that happen)

When I saw my first Warren Miller film in 2006, I was blown the fuck away by the lifestyle and overall badass-ness of backcountry filming and heli-drop skiing. Ever since then, it’s been my goal to shoot out of a helicopter. Ever since being friends with a strong-bearded man named Dan Dunn, I’ve pretty much have been foaming at the mouth to shoot anything in the backcountry for that matter. The amount of content we have watched to gather from production empires like Brain Farm, Camp4Collective, Sherpa Cinemas and many others has made me want to get up and dangle out of a copter somewhere to film something. (Also- maybe one day drop out of one on a snowboard)

Photo by Joe Adams.

Well last week I found myself not being able to sleep because the next day I was finally flying in a fucking helicopter with a camera. Excitement? Fuck no. I forgot one thing. I’m afraid of heights.

I’m fucking afraid of heights.

I’ve always been mindful of this fear, but have ignored it my entire life. This fear that, yes.. a lot of people have.. was not going to stop me from crossing items of my cinematography bucket list. Come to find out, getting in that helicopter started becoming less desired as a shooting experience but more or less a mental challenge.

However, I wasn’t backing down. I was eager to see what type of person I am. (I can't judge myself on the first third of the flight though.. For the first 20 minutes I was gripping the camera so tight it felt as if it was going to crumble in between my white knuckled Italian hands). Joe (his photos featured above and below) had to ask me multiple times if I was okay throughout the day. From that morning until we were halfway to our destination I am pretty sure I had a horrified look on my face. Do you agree?:

 Photo by  Joe Adams.

Photo by Joe Adams.

But I do have to tell you.. After this it was a plate full of buttery cake though. It was fucking awesome. I did it. I'm not sure if I was high off adrenaline or from getting over that bump of not being able to shoot because I was so fucking nervous about falling to my death.

Now, shooting handheld out of an open door technically wasn't the exact experience I was looking for.. However, I was finally shooting up in the air. It's happened so quick and early in my career that I can't have one complaint about it. Even if I walked away with nothing useable, I would have been fine with the fact that I was able to surpass my fears and take the challenge on hand. Now this has happened so quick, I can't wait to see what the next trip is like. (Currently trying to find the funds to rent a unit with a Shotover system on it- will take donations)

Thank you to all who made this possible, it was such an awesome experience. Check out a few highlights from the day:

Why I shot so much this winter and really didn't make any money. (2016/2017)

Honestly.. what the hell did I do to my brain, body, and bank account during the winter?

It’s hard to explain so here’s 30 seconds of what this winter season looked like:

As you can see, not every day out was a successful one this season.

It all started last year. I dove into shooting massive amounts of snowboarding hoping to put together a season edit. Every weekend we would leave Connecticut at 6pm on a Friday and arrive in Vermont around 9:30pm and grab a late dinner at our staple The Garlic. Afterwards we would head to my friends' condo and relax with many Founders All Day IPA's and Moscow Mules. It turned into a few months worth of boozing hard, riding hard, and documenting it all. Man, it was the dream.

Here’s 30 seconds of what last winter looked like:

We walked away with SO much footage. Roughly 1 hour of selected footage. The ratio of late night partying footage to snowboarding footage was way too close though. We partied a lot. To us, it was a mini vacation every weekend. On Sunday nights we would pack the cars and head home for our day jobs on Monday that had nothing to do with being on a mountain.

I honestly rode some of the best conditions of my life, made some awesome memories, and just had some genuine fun. But after all that time and money spent (on paper) what did I walk away with? We submitted one of our edits into a contest that was actually fake and then the spring and summer took over and that season edit didn't exist until 9 months later... I walked away with 6/7 Instagram edits and an introduction into shooting snowboarding. Hey, I'll take it.

Here's one of those fun ass instagrams from last year:

After what seemed to be a longer-than-usual spring and summer, I was so excited to get back into shooting some riding. However, this year I was looking to turn it into something I could start establishing a piece of my career off of.

Well, this season was… interesting to say the least. Let me put it this way. We live in Connecticut - the most unpredictable winter weather on the East Coast. This winter, though, was fantastic in terms of snow.. But when you and your friends all work 9-5 jobs, it isn’t as easy to put together a season edit as you would think. So this time, I was set to put together this film about what it means to be an East Coast snowboarder.

Well to our surprise we didn't walk away with what we wanted. We walked away with a great mid season edit but after that things became a bit too hectic.

 Photo by  Dan Ney

Photo by Dan Ney

I'll tell you what though.. I had the time of my life shooting this winter. Yes it was frustrating at the end of the day sometimes when all I thought we walked away with was one or two clips. What I didn't realize is that I spent my whole day outside enjoying the hell of a day it probably was. Yes, hell of a good day or hell of a day in terms of negative numbers of degrees.. And yes I most likely just purchased a lift ticket to stand behind a tripod and watch my homies ride... However, I did walk away with a free snowboard and a good amount of free days on the mountain but that was besides the point. 

I can be honest, it can be discouraging watching all these great shooters out there making ACTUAL money off shooting cool stuff like this. My goals were simple this year: push some content to a few local brands, film a few competitions, and put the whole track together in a quick piece about riding in these conditions. I was able to fulfill just a few of the small tasks within those main goals though. 

Here's one I tried to push to Rome Snowboards:

At the end of the day, this whole process brought me back to why I began filming. Once we get a sniff of the industry all we want to do is get paid and work with noticeable clients and productions companies. I can be honest, I am guilty of it too! But sometimes we need to remind ourself of why we started, and thankfully this winter season I did that. The whole reason of becoming a filmmaker was because I was just so interested in it. I believe we should aways continue to push ourselves to step back from the hustle. We shouldn't let it stop us from pursuing our own ideas and content. For all those extra hours I put in on top of my day job this winter will never show in any client list or creative resume.

I can tell you what though, I learned a hell of a lot about the way I shoot and about myself as cinematographer. I can tell you I was better on the last day than day one. And sometimes, it's just as easy as recognizing that I've improved as a filmmaker that will help me go to sleep at night. (Key work: sometimes...) 

I couldn't have done it without the great help of my friends (the riders- you know who you are) for always pushing the limits to get certain shots. Also, shout out to my man Steve Ying who was always up with me at 4 AM heading to get that sunrise footage. (Only took us 4 months to time it perfectly)

Get out there and kick ass people! We're all guilty of worrying about making ends meet and putting that green stuff in our pocket. Sometimes it's okay to step back away from the work and enjoy the original thing.

Oh and by the way, here's this year's edit if you haven't seen it:

Freedom Riders | 9TO5

And here's one more before you go:

East Coast Southrise | Mt. Southington

How we made a music video as friends (with money) and still enjoyed each other's company afterwards.

As some of us know, it’s hard to mix friendship and work. For example, in college a lot of my friends would star in my shitty classroom shorts with whatever terrible acting they had to offer. Some would show up, some wouldn’t, some wouldn’t take direction, and some would simply be a big pain in the ass. 

However, as we grow older as artists we tend to try and collaborate with new people to extend the network that we have. For some of us lucky ones, we are surrounded by extremely talented friends who have always been creative and artistic their entire lives.

 All photos from here on are taken by  Mike Budny .

All photos from here on are taken by Mike Budny.

Chousand is a band made up of a bunch of extremely talented and charismatic individuals that I have been fortunate to work, be acquainted, and live with. (Visit here for their music!)  A lot of the work we have done has been purely out of passion with little to no budget. Why? - I believe in passion projects no matter the level/age of artist that you are.

It is hard to stay passionate and hungry when you are depending on your discipline of art (or anything for that matter) to survive. When we focus on making ends meet with money, we tend to capture rather than create.

Our latest project (as seen below), was fortunate to be backed by a (small) budget. I was able to hire a crew (thank you everyone who helped out!). We were also able to buy props! (May have overspent) However, as nice as it was to be backed with the small amount of a budget we had, it was difficult in terms of keeping our minds on what our collaboration was all about.

The initial conversation dealt with timeline, and like most, it was way shorter than it should have been. Whatever! This was fine with me because I enjoy working under pressure when I truly believe in a project. After this, we discussed budget. Where was the spending going to be most useful? This conversation really didn’t involve me (thank god) but I always tried to lend an idea when I could. After this, we talked execution. As you can see from the video, it is a one-take shot that engulfed wrestling, fireworks, set changes, choreography, fog machines, and walking up a set of stairs backwards by myself with no spotter. (FUCK YEAH)

At certain points, arguments ensued for sort of unclear reasons. A lot of it was stress driven and in my defense, passion driven. 

Each step of this process became more and more stressful. I don’t necessarily need to get into details because I'm sure we have all been there. However, there a few things that helped us stay leveled with the foundation of this project:

-This is a collaboration. It's simple as that. Respect everyone's decision.
-Friends before anything. This doesn’t mean professionalism doesn't exist but these people enjoyed your company before looking at you as a paid worker.
-Let whoever has the money, decide what to do with it. (Don't be afraid to make educated suggestions)
-A passion project will most likely always lack budget, don’t ever forget that.
-A passion project is labeled this way for a reason.

It is as simple as this.. don’t forget where you came from, who you are, and definitely don’t forget what each project means. Some projects may be for your own notoriety, great pay, or networking. This was an intensive collaboration between two entities passionate about their discipline. 

Some more photos for you:

Haze, Sound, and 60' of Dolly Track

Some of our bigger projects here at Fairfield University are with the Athletics Department. Whether it's highlights, solicitations, broadcasts, or hype videos, it's a big part of our marketing plan. Athletics brings a good amount of notice for the university.

Screenshot from: SONY A7S w/ 24-105mm. Gimbal: DJI RONIN. Recorder: Odyssey 7Q+

Every team that plays at a venue with a video board gets their own 'hype' or 'intro' video. For obvious reasons, these are some of our most exciting projects to produce. Each year and each team gets a different look and feel. This years men's basketball intro was one that definitely took it home for me. I spent a lot of time figuring out how we are going to make this look different. 

There is a lot of creative freedom here but you have to remember (which is hard for me) that our budgets are somewhat next to none. The reason for this being is because we work on an inhouse rate which is such a small fraction of big time agency work. Therefore we usually only have 2 hours of shooting time and only 3/4 people on set. Those 3/4 people do everything though. My grip is also pulling focus and setting up lights. Honestly, It's not the best way to work but luckily I'm surrounded by great hardworking people who know enough of everything to get the job done. (Thank you to my team for putting up with my bullshit)

Screenshot from: Sony FS700R w/ Rokinon 50mm. Mount: Dolly. Recorder: Odyssey 7Q+

For the previous years, we focused a lot on intimidating-looking video portraits which always look great. This year I wanted to go even further. We decided to make the players dribble up and down the court as if they were practicing alone. We let them freely choose their moves, dunks, and speed.

How are we going to capture this? A long ass dolly. I wanted the quickest but longest move possible and the ability to go in both directions up and down the court. After a few years of shooting with this team, I was confident that I could take my time to make sure every shot was perfect before we move on.

. This year I wanted to incorporate sound into it. The only reason being is because I never started listening to what basketball sounds like until my mother told me she can not watch the games anymore because the squeaking of their shoes on the floor bother her. (Don't listen to it, it's an abyss.. once you hear it you will never unhear it...)

Le Bellezze della Mia Vita

I felt the sudden urge to make sure I am consistently reflecting on the blessings of my life. Now listen, I have and always will be grateful for all the good and bad in my life.. It's what makes us the people we are today.

As millennials, it is easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, hustle-and-bustle of the workflow here in America. Our economy is changing, industries are evolving, and we are indefinitely growing as humans. It is easy to forget the things that make us who we we are as individuals.

Short and simple, I am lucky enough to still have all four of my grandparents alive and extremely healthy. I try to see them as much as I can, but with work and living an hour away from all my family, it gets a little tough at times. For some odd reason, last weekend I felt extremely homesick. I decided I was going to spend the weekend at home and specifically spend time visiting both sets of grandparents. (Who miraculously enough live on the same street as my parents: 'Grandma/Grandpa up the street // Grandma/Grandpa down the street - We used to say when we were kids)

I stopped for lunch the first day and our meal included: Antipasto: Fresh pickled eggplant, Capricola, Grana Padano cheese/Primi: zeppole made by my grandmother the day of topped with a fresh pomodori sauce/Secondi: lentil soup with root vegetables from the garden/Washed down with 2.5 litre of our wine and one bottle of water between the three of us.

The second day, I helped my other grandfather (pictured above) move wood towards the house for the winter. (I knew I was going to have another lunch maybe twice the size so I felt like I needed to work for it) However, our grandmother fed us an antipasto at noon to hold us over so that totally made it worth it. [See below]

Our meal included: Antipasto: Capricola, Bresaola, Cortenese cheese, Roasted, Stuffed Eggplant/Primi & Secondi: Cabbage soup (Somewhat like a Minestra soup), Baby Goat roasted, and Lamb cooked in pomodori/Washed down with 3 bottles of the Homemade (San Giovese/Grenache mix this time) and 2 shots of Stock 84.

Words cannot describe how lucky I am to be able to do this in one weekend. Technically, I could do it one day and not even have to drive a car. My family is and always will be extremely of the "old-school" era. Many people my parents age understand this but it is extremely unheard of amongst people my age. 

Don't be stupid people. Do whatever you can to embrace the tradition and culture you grew up with it. It doesn't need to be foreign, it just needs to be something that turned you into the person you are today. My four grandparents have taught me how to survive in this world. I will not go into all their stories but I can assure you, the work ethic instilled upon us has derived from every single one of them. I feel the need to thank them and my parents for allowing me to realize something of this nature. Many kids nowadays neglect the beauty and love that can come from their family. It is a shame but it is life now.

Working with Old Friends

There is nothing like it. The sensation of being able to call talent or a colleague also a good friend. About a few weeks ago we were doing some high key/high action shooting for wallpaper for Fairfield University's new Recreation Complex.

Cory Lutkus (Good Friend) and I

We needed to capture some martial arts and having spent majority of my time growing up with a 24-time World Champion in Karate, I was more than excited. I've grown up shooting Cory Lutkus. Whether it was Video or Photo, we always were trying new things. I can't tell you exactly where all that stuff went (mainly Facebook I believe), but it was such an awesome time just kicking it back letting him do his thing and me do mine.

Here's a few from the shoot: