Monday, January 19, 2015

My new cinematography demo reel showcasing work from 2014. Please share among friends. Thanks to all the crews involved, too many to list here.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Canon Cine-Servo 17-120

This blog has been neglected the better part of 2014, and I've been meaning to update it for a while. With the explosion of camera/tech blogs and podcasts it hasn't seemed as neccessary to post. I've been immersing myself in other people's experiences, and quite frankly, was left wondering what I had say.

All I can offer is the experience of one DP: the ups, the downs, the false starts, and frustrations. And of course, the satisfaction of a job well done.

Before I delve into projects from 2014, I want to share something relevant to Nov. 23, 2014- The new Canon Cine-Servo 17-120. A lot of camera-persons are set up as small businesses and are looking for end of year investments, and a lot have their eyes on the Canon. Somehow, I was lucky enough to get booked on a gig that subbed in one.

As an operator, my expereince was very positive. It was easy to adjust back-focus. The macro acts as you would expect a macro to work on an ENG/B4 style lens. There's minimal breathing, bokeh from the 11 blade diaphragm is easily obtained and quite nice (with a slight cat-eye effect on the outer perimeter, which I happen to be a fan of), the servo is incredibly smooth, it's about 6 1/2 pounds, and it appears to be very sharp across the aperture range. This last statement is just an observation by eye and not properly evaluated with a test chart.

Before returning the gear I had time to record some images and thought I'd share:

Thanks for bearing with the absence, I'll try to keep the blog up when I have something to share. In the mean time...I don't know, I need a catch phrase. 
See you on set.

©Bill Totolo 2014, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Sunday March 9, Outpost: Pacific Northwest

Since my last posting one job fell through but two others filled its place. One is a recreation show where we create scenes based on actual events. I have a small but seasoned crew of talented professionals working with me: Gaffer, Electrician, Swing, First a.c., and DIT. We're rolling with a 3 ton, a few HMI's, Lekos, Kinos (fat men), PAR cans, and tungsten fresnels. Cameras for A and B unit are Sony F55's with Fuji Cabrio 19-90mm lenses. Last week I got to light a beautiful, spacious church, as well as a high school football field at night (matching metal halide stadium lights with a gel-pack on my 1.2K HMI's).

Right now, I'm writing from my hotel room in the Salt Lake City. I'm literally jumping off a plane from one production and going back into production on the other. This show, which has me on the road, is for the Outdoor Channel and is about people who've survived horrific events in the great outdoors. It's the first time I've worked with this client and I'm learning a completely different style of shooting. Over the last year I've been getting used to working with crews, and having assistants. This show is stripped down where I'm traveling with a host and a producer. I light, shoot, do audio, and media manage all at once. It's a bit overwhelming, especially when I need to hike steep, treacherous mountain trails to get to location (with a camera over my shoulder and a backpack full of lenses, batteries, and various tools on my back). That last minute trip to REI for some decent hiking boots was a smart investment after all.

It's worth it, what photographer/DP wouldn't want the opportunity to shoot wonderful vistas in Colorado, British Columbia, Alaska, and more. The Producer/Director has a lifetime of experience under his belt and I'm learning a lot from him (even at my age), and the host is an inspiring survivor himself who's had a career as a photographer with AP, so he lends a hand with gear and even helps me light! On this shoot I'm using a Canon C100 and 5D MKIII. I'm looking forward to receiving the monitor I've been waiting for (Odyssey 7Q) so I have something to accurately represent an image from these cameras.

Oh, and there were a few days in San Francisco shooting 3D on Treasure Island with 4 Red Epics and a night in Palm desert shooting fire at 90fps in 5K.

That's all for now, I need to get a few hours sleep before heading back into the mountains in the morning.

Friday, January 03, 2014


I really feel like I'm living in the future. 2014 is here and it's already marching ahead.

The good news is I've booked out work eight months in advance this year, beginning with pick ups of last year's Burning Man documentary in 3D, intended for IMAX release. That will be shot with stereo matched lenses and dual RED Epic M-X cameras shooting in 5K at 48fps. We'll continue to use either the Atom or Quasar rigs from 3Ality Technica. The Epics proved themselves in the Black Rock desert and I've become a believer in the RAW work flow. I just wish I could get my hands on a Dragon now.

My travel gigs pretty much completed around September last year which allowed me to get into some more studio work, and a lot of projects around the home. Studio work was a welcome change of pace after hitting the road last year. 2013 had me in Telluride, June Lake, Lake Tahoe, San Diego (x2), Philippines (x2), Philadelphia, Wisconsin, Nevada, and Japan briefly. This was after a heavy end of year travel schedule in 2012.

2014 bookings are pretty much in and around Los Angeles so far, and leaning on the studio side. I enjoy my work as a DP, I work very hard for my clients trying to earn that title,  but showing up to a pre-lit studio and focusing on operating is a luxury that is not lost on me. Sometimes it's nice to show up, bond with the crew, rehearse some moves and be home in time to cook a nice meal and play with the dog.

I'm currently prepping a narrative feature film scheduled late April/early May. It will be my first narrative feature, (though I've shot many short narratives and 5 feature length doc's).

I'm excited to be exploring works for visual references. It's been a great experience revisiting classics like "Casablanca" and studying the great work of Curtiz/Edeson and deconstructing their visual style. I've re-learned so much from that single film, it's a virtual master class in filmmaking. And it's right there, in my personal BluRay collection, it's always been there, waiting to be rediscovered. The way they were able to move those heavy cameras around on their crude cranes back then is inspiring.

The reason I'm referencing "Casablanca" is because there is a parallel to our project. Our film is about an agoraphobic, someone who is shut in, unable to leave his environment, just like the characters in Casablanca. Everyone is a prisoner unless they have the precious letters of transit. And that theme is emphasized in the lighting and wardrobe choices. You begin to notice subtle shadows on the walls that resemble prison bars and horizontal stripes worn by the lead actors resembling prison uniforms. Subtleties that may go unnoticed but I believe add up to a feeling which contributes to the tone of the film.

I've also taken notes on "Silence of the Lambs", "When Harry Met Sally" (meant only as a sample of a very simple style to fall back on when time and budget no longer permits more stylized work), "House of Cards", "The Game", and more to follow.

Another project I was pleased with last year was a contest entry for a cross promotional campaign between Denny's restaurant and the movie "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug". This was a low budget 60 second spot where the director tried to convey a funny, fictional story about a woman who breaks up with her fiance because he's not a dedicated fan of J.R.R. Tolkien's famous novels. I worked with a very talented gaffer, Alex Gaynor, and used overhead book lights lit with Source Fours as our key light, which was new for me, and a fantastic approach for soft lighting our leading lady.

Near the end of the year I shot a feature doc. for SkyMovies UK on Disney Animation Studios lot featuring all the living directors. I was given full access to the studio which was simply an amazing privilege. I spoke with the software designers that animated 400,000 individual strands of hair on the lead character's head in Disney's newest animated feature, "Frozen". We interviewed ALL the living director's from "The Little Mermaid" to "The Lion King" and "Aladdin", and "Beauty and the Beast", right up to "Wreck It Ralph", and "Frozen". It was a blast and a great way to cap off the year and start the holiday season.

I hope to continue the trend of 2013 into 2014 of working on projects that are personally interesting to me and intellectually challenging. Most of all I want to continue collaborating with creative, talented people, and working with crews that are willing to share their wonderful secrets, and produce projects where everyone shines.


Monday, August 05, 2013

Burning Man 3D, IMAX

I'm shooting an officially sanctioned "Burning Man" documentary in 3D.  5 Red Epics, 2 Red M-X, (1) aerial unit, High Frame Rate, IMAX release, who's in?
If you are already attending this year's BM, we're looking for camera assistants, operators, grips, electricians, and p.a.'s.  You don't have to commit for the entire event, please contact
 Please pass the word.

Monday, July 29, 2013

June's GMC "Trade Secrets" with Eric Strohmer

In the previous post I detail our GMC shoot and what is was like chasing the sun, and trying to tame it with 20x20 Silks, 12x12 1/2 Frost, and HMI's.

Here's two of the spots we shot:



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Ad spots, doc series, secret locations and more!

It's been a while since my last post but as any freelancer knows occasionally you get a busy season, and I'm in one right now.

My last post left us in the South China Sea, I haven't signed an NDA but there is an embargo on releasing the location of that shoot until September and I intend on honoring that request.

Six weeks later found me in the South China Sea again in close proximity to the first location. I'll try to approach my shoots in sequential order but for now I'll just say that the second visit was much more physical than the first. It involved water landings by night in the driving rain, falling over algae covered boulders, getting sick, and more water landings- this time over twelve foot swells in a small boat between protruding rock formations...

Here we go:

May 28-29
Beverly Hills, CA

Makers PBS/Aol:
PBS and Aol are working on a docu series called Makers, and I get to shoot the bulk of the West Coast subjects. This is a great project to be involved with on a continuing basis

On this occasion our subject was former Paramount CEO Sherry Lansing. I've always admired Mrs. Lansing and wanted to make sure I did her image justice. She's a beautiful woman and I wanted to go that extra mile to help accentuate those gifts she's been given.

I tried something new for me, I shot an 800watt Joker HMI through a small frame of LEE 129. I like this heavy diffusion because it completely erases the beam pattern from a lamp. My second layer of diff was a roll of LEE 250 rolled out horizontally above the lenses of my two cameras. This spread out about 7 feet wide and created a huge frontal key. I also shot a Kino Flo Diva through the 250 for added exposure. I also added a Diva at lens height (not shown), camera right.

You can just about see the foam core in the frame which was bouncing ambient skylight (filtered through linen sheers) back at the subject. Art Adams who writes for ProVideoCoalition refers to this bounce as "passive fill". Not sure if he coined the expression but it's where I've heard it used a lot, and I learn a lot from Adam's articles so I thought a plug was appropriate.

The above photo hearkens back to the old days of portrait photography, and the sit down interview can be similar. I bounced this tungsten unit with some CTB off of half silk on the floor on the off-camera side (aka "short side") of Mrs. Lansing's face to suggest ambient daylight bouncing back onto her, and added some sculpting to the flat frontal key.

Additional lighting included a Diva side-lighting Mrs. Lansing's chestnut brown hair to accentuate the texture and color.

I used a pair of Aol's Panasonic HPX-2700's with a custom scene file I designed a few years ago. Schneider classic soft filters in 1/4 and 1/2 strength were added in front of the HD Fujinons.

June 2-10
Chester, Philadelphia

"Sons of Ben" is a feature documentary Produced and Directed by Jeff Bell. This is the second full week of shooting which began principal photography last year. This year we revisited Mayors, team CEO's, founding members of the fan based group that brought a major league soccer franchise to Philly, and the mother of a deceased local soccer legend.

Jeff has assembled a great team, and this doc. has got some moments, as well as some dramatic sports footage. It was a feast for a DP, and I enjoyed the partnership forged with long time collaborator Tomi Skarica, a fantastic DP in his own right.

Pictured is my F3 outfitted with Ki Pro mini, and Optitek Nikon adapter with Nikon 70-200 + 2x extender. Field level at PPL Park below the Commodore Barry Bridge, Chester Philadelphia. River's Bend in background, built specifically to accommodate the "Sons of Ben".

June 15
The Brewery Art Colony
 Los Angeles, CA.

You don't get many "firsts" left at my age, and this shoot involved two. It was my first official shoot with the RED Epic, and my first 3-D shoot. We actually had two Epics, working in stereo. Arnaud Paris was the Stereographer, Owner, and Producer of this project. He generously allowed me to DP his pitch to a French arts fund for his feature project. I can't say much other than working with the Epics was very intuitive, having someone like Arnaud control the convergence and stereo functions made life very easy, and the artists at the Brewery are incredibly chill.

Pictured above is Arnaud's incredible 3D Epic rig specifically designed to deliver 3D IMAX.

June 18
Hollywood Center Studios

TVGN- Green screen shoot at Hollywood Center Stages. Can't reveal the project until airdate, but it was a simple set up.

June 24-28
Northridge, CA

GMC "Trade Secrets"
These are short "how-to" set-ups featuring Eric Stromer. Eric shows you how to build a screening room in your back yard, erect a basketball court in your drive way, etc all while utilizing the latest GMC trucks to haul equipment and gear, and generally make use of the product line to assist in his home based projects.

These were actually pretty challenging from a photographic point of view because you have large objects that require careful lighting in daylight exteriors. As we know the sun is always moving, and those trucks require large 20x20 foot silks to spread the light evenly to accentuate their curves, and spread the light over the chrome bumpers.

Essentially I created a soft box with a 20x20 full silk, and (2) 12x12's (Ultra bounce in one, half frost with a double net in the other. I also placed silks and foam core on the ground to clean up the reflections in the chrome bumpers.

We also had a beautiful night ext. shot, that we knocked out in less than an hour, to show off the outdoor screening room. We matched projector frame rate for this shoot.

I wish this screenshot of the 9" Panasonic monitor did the results justice. My Gaffer Jacob Romero and crew did an amazing job with limited hands on deck after a very long, hot day.

July 2-3
Soho House, Sunset Blvd, 
Los Angeles, CA

I camera operated on a TV show called "Living the Life" for Britain's Sky Arts HD.
Guests get to interview each other for a couple hours. Day one was Elliot Gould interviewing Dave Stewart. Day two had Marianne Faithfull interviewing Ian La Frenais.

Pretty frickin' cool.

July 5-16
South China Sea

Prep day on the fifth of July when everyone on Earth was taking the day off at the beach, oh well. The next two days were spent in transit. We had a 2 hour lay over in Narita, Japan which was exciting, I've never been, but for the fact everyone was wearing face masks desperately trying not to catch the latest strain of avian flu.

Day one was a pretty easy day for us.

Day two was intense. 14 hours, missed meal, heat and humidity.

Day three started pre-dawn and wrapped early. With our down time we hiked into the jungle to experience a natural waterfall (pictures to follow). It was beautiful and would have been worth-while had my Merrill's not become covered in slimy algae thus causing me to fall over boulders and jagged rocks...repeatedly.

Day four had me sick with a viral infection that, as it turns out, infected most of the crew, well over 100 people. I got to sleep in and after a visit to the set medic, where I was half-heartedly assured I didn't have dengue fever, was sent off with a shopping bag of pills. One poor soul actually did contract dengue fever. If you Google the symptoms you won't believe this is real, and worse yet, there's no cure. You get it for life like Malaria. And like Malaria it's communicated through mosquitoes. Maybe hiking in the jungle wasn't a great idea after all.

Day five, I felt better, which was good because we made water landings on a 20 foot boat over twelve foot swells. I cannot over emphasize the severity of this. Our small vessel practically went vertical at moments and crashed back into the ocean sending spray over the bow consistently for a half an hour. And we did this between jagged rock formations jutting out of the ocean. I said my prayers.

Day 6, our final shooting day went late into the evening. Not to be outdone by day 5 this day/night consisted of water landings by nightfall in driving rain. Bear in mind, when I graduated college I began life as an analyst who dwelled in a cubicle 40-50 hours a week. There were moments on these night landings in the piercing rain where I wore a shit-eating grin thinking about what it must be like to be a Navy SEAL.

And then the 24 hour journey back home, jet-lag, another visit to the doctor to make sure all is clear (it is) and prepping for...

July 18-20
Comic Con!!!!