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The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour

The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour, Alex Buono leads a demo. Philadelphia, PA, June 22, 2013. Click to enlarge.
The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour, Alex Buono leads a demo. Philadelphia, PA, June 22, 2013. Click images to enlarge.

I attended Alex Buono‘s The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour yesterday in Philadelphia. Alex is the DP of Saturday Night Live’s film unit as well as on other commercial and film projects. The day is divided into two parts, a 9am – 4pm workshop and a 6pm – 9pm seminar. You can opt to attend either or both. Most attendees were there for both.

While 9am – 9pm might sound like a long day, it’s anything but. I would call it a full day. There is a lot information conveyed, driven by samples of Alex’s work. Unlike other tours of this type which promise not to be about equipment but really are about equipment, The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour sticks close to its title. The concentration is on thinking like a filmmaker – getting from script or concept to planning, to lighting, and to shooting a piece. The majority of the 9am-4pm workshop is spent on lighting/shooting demos.

The nighttime seminar is a cross between a lecture and some of the popular online mashups exploring famous filmmakers’ predilections ( e.g. Tarantino, Kubrick.) The latter are always interesting but never tell you the why. Alex gets to the why, giving you insight into the reasons the filmmakers made those choices and he sets you on the path of incorporating them into your own work.

Any photography or film workshop needs sponsors and can never truly get away from a bit of equipment talk. In Philadelphia, Canon and a local rental/post-house had tables. There was also an hour to check out Kessler gear (jib, slider, drives), a high end O’Conner fluid head, Redrock rigs with Canon’s Cinema series (C100, C300, C500, 1Dc) and one of the new remote phosphor based lights.

The MōVI runs through the crowd. Philadelphia, PA, June 22, 2013.
The MōVI runs through the crowd. Philadelphia, PA, June 22, 2013.

And there was the MōVI, the much hyped stabilized camera gimbal. One of the six prototypes is on the tour. Alex and his assistant demo it and you get a chance to try it out. The demo is impressive, Alex does a follow shot, trailing his assistant as they run through the room. They also do a handoff between two camera operators and in each demo the footage is scary smooth. I get it, I can see what this brings to the table, I can see how it can potentially save hours on a production. But it should be said that the rig with a 1Dc + Canon 24mm Cinema Prime and add-ons (wireless follow focus, small monitor) is 15 lbs. It is not going to be something an operator can use for long periods without other support (Steadicam, Easyrig, etc.)

I was told it took Alex’s crew a few hours to initially set it up and balance it. Once done it is only taking them ~10 minutes each day to rebalance it (it needs to be balanced whenever it is started up) but they are not changing the camera/lens combo mounted on it.

The MōVI’s tilt and pan is controlled via a remote helicopter/drone type controller. Ideally, it would have three operators; one to carry it, one to control the camera (pan & tilt,) and one to pull focus. Is this the new revolution? Time will tell but I don’t know that it will be the mass revolution that dslr video was.

But I digress (into equipment no less!) Alex’s tour is great and I highly recommend it. It’s about a one-third of the way done with many dates left. Well worth attending if it comes to a city near you.

Update – 7/08/13:  Alex has added a MōVI review to his blog – A Month with MōVI. The Art of Visual Storytelling is on the road for one more month with many opportunities to catch it as it winds its way through the Southwest and up the West Coast.