Technology? Art?

I’m a cinematographer and photographer.

(Is the distinction even valid anymore? A topic for another entry perhaps.)

Early on I learned the hard way that, like it or not, the ability to create something anywhere near close to what I envisioned in my mind’s eye depended upon an understanding of the science involved in image making.

Rather than feeling put upon by what, for many people I knew, was an ironic impediment to their “genius,” I was intrigued by the fact that photography seemed to be a marriage of art and science – if only because, as such, it put the lie to the modernist dichotomy which governed my education.

In the analog days, this meant that, in order to have any hope of control over the look of an image, one would need to acquire at least a working knowledge of:

>> the physics of light, film, and lenses

>> the mechanics of the iris and the shutter

>> the chemistry of film development and printmaking

Those were heady times. There’s few things as magical as seeing an image appear on an exposed piece of paper, bathing in developer, in the red light of a darkroom. However, nostalgia needs to be tempered by one incredibly frustrating reality.

If the images in your head happened to be in color, good luck.

Affordable color processing options were of mediocre quality and frustrating to use. The high end color processing options (especially dye transfer printing) were beyond the means of all but the most successful commercial photographers.

Fast forward to the advent of Photoshop. Well before digital cameras reached a quality level that made them reasonable rivals to film cameras, photographers were using new computer-based sciences to transform their celluloid libraries into digital files so they could make use of the freedom that Photoshop afforded to realize their vision in living color.

Soon enough, digital cameras caught up to – and in many ways surpassed – film cameras. Today, small mirrorless cameras capture more information than the famous Hasselblad medium-format film camera which went to the moon – and do so for both stills and video.

So where am I going with all this? I recently had a chance to shoot with one of these magical machines, the brand new Sony A7rII. And while I will try not to bore you with the technologies that make this camera such an amazing tool, I do need to say that it offers the serious image maker a truly unique combination of extended dynamic range, amazing detail, and tremendous low light capabilities.

But rather than prattling on, let me share with you some images I was able to produce. And in my next post, I’ll go into more depth about digital imaging technology and how it’s exended the photographer’s and the cinematographer’s artistic reach.

PLEASE! Click inside each image to see a larger sized view. Doing so will give you a better idea of the camera’s technical capabilities, which are far beyond what can be reproduced online.

Oqunquit Rocks and Weed

Familly on Rocks


Halloween Boy

Mom, Apple Pie, and . . . Documentary?

As the new director of the Experimental College at Tufts, it’s my privilege to lead off with the first post on X, our updated blog. To this end, I want to share a few observations on something I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately: the surprising state of documentary these days.

Here at the ExCollege, for example, we’re offering a well-received course on doc theory taught by Natalie Minik, who’s a product of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. In addition, on Sunday, October 11th, we’re co-sponsoring the Tufts premier of Codename: Pirat, a film by Erik Asch about his father, Bob, the long time director of the Tufts-in-Tubingen program, who may or may not have been a spy!

And my colleague here in the Film and Media Studies program, Khary Jones, is part of the creative team that just brought He Named Me Malala to the screen. I mention “screen” quite intentionally, because the film is currently showing at suburban multiplexes around Boston!

On a personal note, I’m in the very early stages of launching a long-form project about a breakaway Jewish congregation in Chicago, called Mishkan, that’s attempting to meld progressive politics with folk culture and ecstatic practice.

It seems to me that all of this points toward a sea change in American culture. Over the last twenty years, people have started paying attention to films other than features. Yes, it built slowly. And yes, it would be fair to say that interest has waxed and waned. And yes, it might also be fair to say that – call it what you will – this renaissance, this golden age of documentary, owes much to a bookend set of necessary evils: “reality” TV and Michael Moore. (Reality TV and Moore both warrant further discussion, but I won’t take the time now to do so.)

Equally as important, I believe the ascendance of documentary has been driven, in a fundamental manner, by the digitization of media, a phenomenon that cuts two ways.

First of all, thanks to digital cameras and editing software, shooting a documentary at a quality level that audiences will read as “professional” is now within the reach of anyone who can cobble together a few thousand dollars. Once upon a not so distant time, that figure would have been a few hundred thousand, at least.

Secondly, cable and the Internet have exponentially expanded the need for “content” (horrible word, great concept). And “content providers” – HBO, IFC, iTunes, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime, and so on – have rushed into the breach, providing the means to promote and distribute small-budget films at a magnitude unimaginable in the 80s and 90s.

Obviously, there’s much to work through. But for me, today, I’m left with these thoughts. We have a solid enrollment in the course. Erik’s film is garnering praise around the world. There’s funding and an audience within reach for my project. And you can buy tickets for Malala at Kendall Square Cinema in Cambridge, and Showcase Cinemas in Worcester and Woburn, five or six shows daily, every day of the week.

Solve for X

X. Great band. The unknown. That something special. Where you are or where you want to be (as in marking the spot). Malcolm.


X. The distillation of Tufts University’s Experimental College. Fifty years old and still being born. Thousands of students, faculty, administrators, and alums. Courses that you won’t find anywhere else. Programs that pique the intellectual curiosity of the campus. A place where ideas are nurtured and sent off into the world.

X. Here. And how you’ll get to know us, what we care about, and how we think.

The View From Way Out Here

Part One in an Ongoing Series of Observations on the Current State of Filmmaking and the Film Industry.

The music industry figured it out, albeit kicking and screaming. But the movie studios refuse to see the handwriting on the wall. While they spend millions attempting to devise and disseminate protection schemes in their war against the internet, they’re fighting on the wrong front. The long-term threat to their hegemony — the highly centralized production and distribution system that we’ve known for nearly 100 years now as Hollywood — won’t be our ability to download studio films. Far more dangerous is the fact that Hollywood’s stranglehold on professional-level production and widespread distribution is withering away, bit by bit, inch by inch, day by day.
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TuftsFilmWorks Alum, Jason Moloney, is getting noticed and getting work in LA.

Since graduating last spring, filmmaker, graphic artist, and writer, Jason Moloney, has been, as he puts it: “really busy lately.” After doing a great deal of networking all last year, Jason made the move to LA over the summer, and he hit the ground running.

Jason landed his first gig as an Assistant Production Coordinator on Ex-Free, the indie feature produced, written, and directed by veteran African-American actress, Troy Beyer Bailey. He must have been doing something right, because once shooting wrapped, he was asked to stay on as Assistant Editor. After Ex-Free, Jason joined the team of the Fallout: Nuka Break web series as a Production Supervisor. And from there he served as a Production Superviser/Coordinator on Stuck, a new feature with Madeline Zima and Joel David Moore. As I write this, Jason has recently started work as a Production Coordinator on a new — and as yet unnamed — feature that’s in preproduction and will be shot in March. Continue reading