Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Camera Man

Now that you've seen some video, I suppose it's time to introduce everyone to the cast and crew. (Even though I'm fairly certain that right now it's predominately the cast and crew reading this blog).

First up. Chris Heeney

CODE NAME: "The Business"

Let me first point out that we don't actually have any code names on set. However if we did have code names, or if ever we felt it was necessary to create some code names, I'm pretty sure I would insist that Chris' be The Business.
I have been making movies, in one form or another, with Chris for nearly ten years. Of course that's a bit disingenuous considering that we weren't really filming anything new for many of those years. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I BEGAN making movies with Chris almost ten years ago. The first movie we made had a cast of only three characters. Two of them were Chris and myself narrating improvised dialog directly into the camera. The other main character of that first film was a stuffed "Playboy" bunny. I suppose you could say there were four characters if you count my girlfriend at the time acting as our "tripod" for one shot.

After that first short film we continued to make completely improvised, skit type shorts using a Sony 8mm Handi cam. We shot almost everything we did in black and white because we felt it looked more acceptable than using the color feature on the horribly cheap camera. For anyone unfamiliar with an 8mm handi cam , remember those cameras dads used at basketball games circa 1998? Basically a home video camera with horrible picture quality and even worse on-board sound. For about a year, or a little over, Chris and I (along with one other fellow Dinosaur World citizen whom I'll introduce in a later post) made a handful of these short films.

Back then it was not possible for us to edit anything. This was before the days of Final Cut Pro or any the other non-linear editing suites currently available to the public at bargain basement prices. At least it was before the time that a 19 or 20 year old could afford such things. So the only thing we could do was to shoot everything in sequence and edit it in camera. This sounds like a disaster but Chris was a genius at it. Everything we shot took only one night. We typically started by devising a basic and horribly stupid plot line. Then we would rough out, via group discussion, what character each of us would play and what we would do. Mind you this was all a verbal writing session. I think we only ever wrote down one actual script. After discussing the idea, the characters, then the story, we simply pointed the camera and began acting. Chris was almost always in control of the camera except when he needed to be in front of the camera. After a sufficient amount of time improvising had passed Chris would cut the shot. Then he would cue up the tape for the second shot, we would discuss what shot would cut in well with the previous cut and then hit record again. Rinse and repeat. This would go on anywhere from 4 to 10 hours. Usually we shot at night and stopped at sun up. Then after an 8 hour overnight shoot we would all gather in front of the TV and enjoy our work. Then we would promptly forget about it and move on to something else.
Eventually Chris did get his hands on an editing suite. By today's standards I'm sure what he had would be considered unacceptable but it meant that we could put all of our shorts on a DVD. Which Chris did. And I still have them. And I still watch them occasionally. I continue to be impressed by the fluidity of each one. Yes they are dumb, and the acting is often horrible. But the camera work is solid. The cutting techniques really quite amazing considering no editing has been done.
Chris is practically a film encyclopedia. Movie quotes, directors, writers, actors, titles, I can name a lot. But Chris goes a step further. Want to know who did the score for a low budget French film made in 1974? Chris could probably tell you. He could probably tell you who the cinematographer is as well.

The Business harnesses the power of
the mighty Chimera light.
Those things are great and they make for wonderfully fun conversations for which to annoy our wives. However, Chris is invaluable to this production for so many more reasons. Number one of which is his camera work and amazing eye for detail. I hold the camera like a drunk with the shakes, but Chris is like a surgeon. Not only that his eye for composition is far beyond anything I could dream up myself. It goes beyond just his technical abilities though. Chris and almost always understand each other. I don't have to say much before he get what I'm talking about, and vice versa.
He also helps balance me out. If I'm losing my mind, or getting frustrated or feel like I'm hitting a wall, or if I just don't know how to do something or even what it is I want to do, very often Chris steps in and makes the suggestion or finds the solution. I couldn't imagine doing this without him.
I have only ever made one movie without Chris' involvement and honestly I don't think I'd want to try and make another without him. This sounds like a love letter to the guy, I guess it kind of is.

Now Chris and I are working on second feature length film. We have more actors, more locations, a better script, lights, camera, external sound, editing suites. It's wonderful. Hopefully in ten years we'll still be making films, whether anyone is paying us to do it or not.

In short....Chris Heeney: the stone pillar of Dinosaur World.

Stay tuned for more cast and crew bios.

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