The Rule: A Long Time Coming

My wife's family has owned a lakeside campsite in northern Michigan for 103 years. In the middle of that lake lies Birdseye Island. As children they had a tradition to swim to the island and back without a life jacket. That would allow them to play, swim, and canoe without adult supervision. It was their rite of passage. The Birdseye Rule.

In April my wife, Eleanor, and her sister, Jen, opened Birdseye Rule. A men and women's clothing store in Chicago inspired by their family history on the lake. From the beginning we wanted to shoot a film for the store based on the namesake.

2 years ago Eleanor and I shot a film at her grandmother's farm, the place we fell in love and would eventually get married. We made that film during a rough time in our relationship, but we made it to express where we were at the time and be a time capsule of a place we love. 

After a showing of The Farm before we released it someone mentioned to me that they'd like to see this as a series and that stuck out to me. A series of short films exploring places and our relationships to them. Birdseye Rule would serve as a great second film in a series exploring this.

 

 

Pre-Pro

I started working on pre-pro in May trying to think of a narrative based around what I knew about my wife's childhood. I got inspired fast, and soon I had a whole idea for a long-ish short film. A 10-15 minute film. With almost no dialogue. Just trying to communicate emotion and feeling through the cinematography. I created a mood treatment as a way to process the ideas in my head. To accomplish what I wanted to do I knew I'd need more money than what we could manage from a new local business. I wanted to work with a lot of my super talented friends on this and have a legit crew. I sent the following treatment to tons of film grants, residency programs, and fiscal sponsors.

 

Needless to say, I got a whole $0. One of the grant companies actually called me, started telling me how great they thought the idea was but decided to not give me a grant. I was confused by that. Frustrated. Honestly, pretty depressed.

I felt my idea wasn't good enough. I felt like a failure. I thought about maybe trying to do a Kickstarter but I was already defeated in my head and decided against it. 

Eleanor is the most amazing person in the world. She helped me out of a slump and told me maybe we'll just try a longer form version another time. Maybe we could make a proof of concept instead.

So we stripped bare a lot of parts and Eleanor got to writing a script similar to the one she wrote for The Farm. We went through about 8 versions in a week. We're both big personalities with a lot of pride and it's hard for us to be vulnerable with each other about work. It's often explosive and leads to a lot of yelling and misunderstanding. We were days away from our first day of production without a final script and no scenes blocked. We were going in pretty blind.

Eleanor and Jen picked out a handful of looks for everyone who would be in the film. Our goal for this film was to be a conceptual telling of the store's namesake and also serve as a lookbook film. I referred to one of my favorite short films for Free People as inspiration. I loved the way they told a story and blended in the different looks and outfits.

 

I knew I wanted to cast Eleanor's cousin Hannah for the film. We had done one shoot together already for a poem she wrote and I knew she'd be perfect for this especially since the story is part of her childhood too. We also found out Hannah's sister, Maddie, would be there at the same time and my idea started to grow. I thought that we could use these two sisters to represent Eleanor and Jen, the two sisters who started the store.

Production

 

July 2nd- Our actress/ Eleanor's cousin Hannah got into Chicago at 6a.m. and we started our 5 hour dive to Michigan. We talked about what I wanted to try in terms of shooting based on the rough script we had. We'd do a few tests for some scenes I had in my head for the first 2 days we were there.

As for gear:
C300mkii
Zeiss CP2 35mm
Black Pro Mist 1/4
All shot in available light

 

The whole family was up in Michigan for July 4th weekend so our plan was to spread out our shoot days over 5 days. 

2 days for exterior shots around the campgrounds
2 days for interiors after most of the family had left Michigan
1 day for pickups.

In some of the BTS photos you can see me in the water with an EasyRig. I was literally waist deep in the water hoping I wouldn't trip and ruin my camera. We shot some swimming scenes of Hannah where I was sitting in a canoe that Eleanor was paddling. I bought this underwater housing which was essentially a glorified ziplock bag. I couldn't even focus the lens so I put the camera on auto-focus and prayed the shots would come out. It was stressful to be so out of control in such an important scene but I had faith we shot enough coverage to get something out of it.

After it was all said and done I was actually really excited about the footage although I had no idea how I was going to string it all together.

 

Post-Production

 

Another month passed (and a lot more explosive fights ensued) before we settled on a final script. I flew out to Minnesota to do the voice over recording with my Eleanor's friend Stanzi who acts in plays and does some vocal work. We set up a bootleg sound studio in her closet and within an hour we had an incredible voiceover for the film.

The actual editing process tends to always be the hardest part for me. Along with juggling multiple client projects at the same time I got burned out. After trying a couple times editing to only become more and more frustrated I brought in my friend Taylor Shanton to help me out on the editing side. He laid down a lot of foundation for how most of the scenes flowed together. 

September 25- I got an email from Low Res Studio about a local filmmaker feature they were going to put on in two and a half weeks. I met none of the criteria (it wasn't a documentary, it wasn't 7+ minutes long, and it wasn't even completed), but they accepted it and it put me on a deadline.

Over the next two weeks I locked myself in a room and edited meticulously. I was frustrated with the temp music I was using when a good friend and composer, Chris Gatton, started sending me his ideas for the score. It immediately got me out of the funk that the temp music was holding me back on. We went through a few rounds of revisions before settling on the final score. I also reached out to my old Sound Design instructor from college, Robin Gulcher, who graciously offered to create the soundscapes for the film. To really add a dimension to the nostalgia of the film I knew a great uncle of Eleanor's used to work in video production. I gave him a call, taught him how to upload video to a cloud, and I now had Hi-8 footage from the camp in 1990. 

On the right, Jennifer, Co-Owner of Birdseye Rule & stylist, 1990

Cabin exterior, 1990

Cabin interior, 1990

Our actress Hannah, 1990

October 12- I was 100% finished with the film at midnight before the premiere at Low Res Studio. My eyes were bloodshot and I thought I was going crazy. At Low Res we ran into technical issues during playback and my heart sunk. I literally told the crowd that I was now living my worst nightmare. Sweating profusely, we finally got the film to play.

 

Though the film was received well at the premiere, if you had asked me about it even a few weeks ago I would have told you the whole project was a total failure. I was ready to quit on it so many times. It was hard for me to separate my original idea with the film it needed to become. I couldn't let go nor did I want to let go. I thought my idea, that I was so proud of at one point, wasn't good enough. There were many times during this process that I thought about just giving up filmmaking all together. And I'm still wrestling with that and how to navigate a creative career. It's hard and vulnerable to put out this work that means a lot to you but may not connect with others. You're putting your heart out there for others to judge. 

But when it was all said and done, I'm so so so  proud of what myself and a very small team of people were able to create. I'm thankful to have such a supportive and talented wife I get to work with and her family who've allowed me to create alongside them. The UPS man who somehow found our cabin in a little shanty town so I'd have the lens I needed. My therapist. The collaborators who offered their creative services for favors, free, or a gin + tonic. And finally to everyone whose read this ramble all the way, liked an IG post, or mentally encouraged me through this process- it hasn't been easy but your support has made all the difference. 

Hopefully it's not another 2 years before the next in this series of films is made, here's to hoping. Peace.

All Footage.02_11_24_18.Still005.jpg

Reel / Return

I used to update this blog frequently when I was splitting my time between photography and filmmaking. I was just starting to really enjoy taking photos and then before I knew it, I was only doing photography work- mix in the occasional overhead stop motion video for social media from time to time. Earlier this year I decided to get back to my roots and start focusing on filmmaking again. Not that I don't ever want to do photography anymore, I just needed to shift my focus and work on projects that remind me of why I got into this in the first place. 

I haven't made a reel in probably 3 years but seeing what's changed in the past 3 years has me even more excited to see what the future has in store. I'm going to (try to) update this blog more often with frames of films I'm working on and maybe some BTS process posts. We'll see. 

FRAMES

Some Portraits

Working full time in Chicago and taking on freelance has given me less and less time to shoot for personal reasons, but I haven't let it completely stop me. With the help of Instagram its become easier to find something to do on a whim. Being able to see what other Chicagoans have been up to, the places they go and the sites they see have been inspiring me as of late. I've been lucky to connect with people whose work pushes me to do better and to tell better stories through images, wether still or in motion. Storytelling has always been on the forefront of what I've wanted my work to portray, but I realized I was slowly moving further and further away from it. I can make tons of excuses- I have no time, client work has been more product and marketing focused, etc etc. Maybe I haven't been crafting projects into stories the way I used to and have been more focused on creating more quality images themselves, but now  

A collection of photos from recent adventures in and around Chicago with new and old friends. More always on Instagram and VSCO Grid.

2015 So Far

Sometimes it gets hard for me to share photos I've taken on here with so many other social network platforms to share on. It's a bit chaotic at times. But full images excite me so much more than squares on Instagram. Here's a few selects from this year so far.

Flowers For Dreams

It finally happened... I finally made the move to Chicago.  Shortly after getting settled in I got to meet the incredible people of Flowers For Dreams. If you aren't familiar, Flowers For Dreams is a floral studio based in Chicago that delivers beautifully designed arrangements and part of the profits from each purchase goes towards a charity that they sponsor for the month. For the month of February, Flowers for Dreams is partnering with One Tail at a Time, an all-breed dog rescue committed to lowering euthanasia rates in the greater Chicagoland area through the rescue and adoption of dogs in need.  On top of meeting them, they gifted me this beautiful bouquet of roses from their Valentine's day collection. The collection is now fully available on their site so if you're searching for a gift for someone this Valentine's day, Flowers For Dreams is the way to go.

Christmas

After weeks of grey in Columbus, I finally got to see the sun again in California. A refreshing week before heading back to start a move to an even colder city (Chicago). I often forget how beautiful the sites are, or what the roar of crashing waves against the rocks sound like, and how different the ocean air smells. I attribute California to where everything started for my journey in life. Moving here on a whim almost 5 years ago with no plan and stumbling into doing corny youtube videos (which you can find floating on the internet somewhere). I never could have imagined being able to document life for a living and it all started here- with a little Flip video camera and some friends who agreed to my ridiculous antics. This place will always hold a good chunk of nostalgia in my heart. Cheers to you, oh California.

You can view more snapshots of this trip on my Instagram and VSCO Grid.

Chicago Pt. 2: The Land of Nod

Following my previous post, what really brought me out to Chicago for a few days was to shoot a commercial for The Land of Nod. A promotional web video to live online featuring their featured holiday item, the carry home dollhouse. Working with an incredible team of creatives and a wonderful little girl as our talent, we had a successful day of production. The day couldn't have been more perfect, from the weather to the natural light that poured into the dreamy loft we shot in. A huge thanks to Rachel Baransi for being a wonderful on set assistant and capturing these great BTS shots. 

Creative Direction- Danielle Kurtz
DP/ Editor- Richard Original
Styling- Sage Reed
A.D./ BTS- Rachel Joy Baransi

Typography- Danielle Williams
Motion- Jonathan Yurek

Chicago Pt. 1: Instameet

I spent a few days in Chicago recently for a commercial shoot. In my free time I got to hang out with a lot of friends and make new ones at a Chicago Instameet. This was my first time attending an Instameet and it was a lot of fun getting to meet people who are in my dream city. Hoping to be back in the city sooner than later. Chicago, you're starting to steal my heart. You can view more photos on Instagram and VSCO Grid.

Art Camp

There's few places I love being more than Camp Wandawega. So when I was asked to come back to shoot at the 8th annual Art Camp, there was no way I could say no the the opportunity. I never grew up going to summer camp, but going as an adult I felt like I could appreciate the experience much more than I would be able to as a child. David and Tereasa brought together an incredibly talented group of creatives for a weekend get away. We learned how to weave, create jewelry, and roll sushi. We drank pour overs and cocktails all weekend and ate the most amazing food from some of the best chefs and food stylists in the world. More info on the weekend and the talented folks who attended can be found here. More photos can be found on my Instagram and VSCO Grid and be sure to watch the video below.

Super Powers 2014

I didn't know Daniel and Mikelle too well when they asked me to shoot their wedding, but I'm so glad they did. The ceremony and reception were held at the Rivercrest Farm, a few hours away from Columbus which gave it the perfect local 'destination' wedding feel. The rain couldn't stop us from all having a good time and celebrating this magical love. The farm had some amazing views and scenic spots for photos, animals ran around the whole place, and perfect company that made my job run as smooth as can be. Press play on the music and enjoy the love of Mr. + Mrs. Powers

Meg + Caleb

The first day I met Meg she asked me to shoot her wedding and at the time I had no idea it was going to be one of the most beautiful days that I get to document. Since that first conversation a few months ago, I've been fortunate to call myself friends with this couple. Meg and I get to work side by side as filmmakers at Vineyard Columbus and Caleb works as a web designer at a local agency in Columbus. Two rad creatives getting married makes for a beautiful end result. Press play on the video below and enjoy.

Studio III - Laurel, Sharon, Libby

I've been loving having creative friends over at the studio to collaborate. Laurel doubles as a fellow filmmaker and also a talented singer/ songwriter who came over to play some tunes that I got the privilege to capture on camera. That's still being worked on but you can view our last collaboration a little bit back on my blog. Sharon is a painter and creative guru at Pistachia Vera who came over to get some shots of her newest painting before she ships it off to its new home in Florida. Finally, Libby is one of my favorite of friends whose style continually impresses me and she has a lovely voice to boot. Thanks friends for being such a creative inspiration in my life. Also, why haven't any of my guy friends come over to shoot? That needs to change.

Studio III - Krista

Krista is talented fashion designer and a great friend of mine who just left on her big move to L.A. We've traveled cross country together, eaten each other's family's Filipino food, and she has brought many pairs of my denim back to life after one crotch blowout to the next. A true talent and another reason for me to visit the west coast again.

Studio III - Jen

Jen - I'm gonna miss this wonderful human as she goes off to Israel then to Baltimore for grad school. The past few months we had the chance to work closely together for some shoots and I don't know if I have worked with a person as joyful and positive as her. May all of your future endeavors be filled with joy! Below is an image we were able to collaborate her directing with my photography for a future project.

Testing, testing

I recently built a natural light studio in my home and have been very pleased with the results. Running some tests for future endeavors. 

Crazy

I've known Laurel for a couple years, but it wasn't until this year that we really became close friends. This year we started working at the same job together, and were also pushed to our limits as directors of separate projects for a collaborative class we were in. We've done so much bonding in the past year that it was only right we collaborate on a project together. Laurel is talented as both a filmmaker and a musician so coming together for this project ran as smooth as possible. We shot it all within a couple hours and had the finished edit within the next week. A huge thanks to our friends at the Iuka House for letting us use their beautiful space. Enjoy.