Contributor guest post; Meet Gene Sung
Hello, my name is Gene and I’m an LA-based DP and Director. Dissolve very kindly let me write a blog post on some of my projects, so here it is.
The first clip above is my Demo Reel, I DP’d pretty much all of it and directed a fair bit. Of course, like many of you, I shoot a ton of work projects that never see the light of day since they’re just bread-and-butter boring work, so I use my spare time for more artistic projects and collaborating with other artistic friends. Sure there’s no money in passion projects, but you get to be experimental and I always learn so much, that it actually leads to more paid jobs. I used to feel kind of bad about doing too many indies, but then I heard a podcast where A-List DP Shane Hurlbut ASC said that in the first twenty years of his career he probably worked for free 50% of the time just to make himself and the projects better.
I started shooting for fun about twelve years ago. Originally, I went to Otis College of Art and Design in LA and started as a motion graphic designer and animator. It was interesting for a while, but I got so burned out staring at a computer all day, that I began learning everything I could about filming off the internet, and slowly transitioned into being a DP and director. I didn’t really make any money for the first six years and only in the last few years have I made any type of decent money. I still do MoGraph a few days a month to fill in the gaps, it’s nice to have a backup skill, and I know if I had stayed in Motion Graphics I’d be making considerably more money as there’s just so much work, but doing what you enjoy is worth way more than cash (Cliche check please).
I think it’s really important for DP’s to have their own style. I’m not sure I’ve achieved that yet, but I’m always trying to evolve and define the way I shoot. I tend to like long focal lengths, mostly shooting between T2 to T4 as I like shallow depth of field/not too sharp, back/side lighting, lots of macros, silhouettes, completely defocused shots, details and subtle camera movements. I use jibs a lot since that allows for subtle camera movements and quick setups.
For me, music is a huge source of stylistic influence. I’m a big fan of dreamy, pretty music – Mogwai, New Order, The Album Leaf, The Smiths, The Chromatics, John Murphy, and dreamy indie rock really influences the way I film as I’m basically trying to make the music I love, but with images. In my next life, I’ll come back as a musician.
THE ROYAL FRONT – DANCING IN THE DARK • 2018
Camera: Red Gemini and Canon 60D
Lenses: Sigma Cine Primes, Tokina 11-16 f2.8, Canon 24-70 f2.8, Nikon AIS 28mm f2.8, and Nikon AIS 50mm f1.8
Misc: Movi M15 while riding a skateboard, projector for the flames and visuals.
This song is a great Bruce Springsteen cover by The Royal Front. Skateboarding has always been a true love of mine, so I thought it would be great to literally be “dancing” at night in Downtown LA on skateboards and roller skates while making it poetic and beautiful looking. This video was actually really hard to cast for, someone LA-based with the right look who could roller skate well. After weeks of going through many Instagram accounts, I found Liv Buchan who is an amazing sponsored roller skater who has great fashion sense and a great look. She’s not an actor by trade, but she did really well in the studio performance shots. The skateboarder is my good friend Tadashi Suzuki who I’ve worked with quite a bit. He’s an LA-based actor and ripping skater.
I was really happy with the skating shots. My friend John Note is a Movi Op and a skateboarder and he suggested that I skate while holding the Movi to get a super smooth shot. This was a fantastic idea as it really allowed me to vibe with the skaters and it would have been impossible to run after them as they were going too fast. It’s a bit sketchy holding $30K of gear while riding a skateboard so you have to be really confident on a skate to do this. I actually hit a crack and crashed hard, but I sacrificed my body to save the camera and was sore for the next three days.
We used a Red Gemini which is an amazing camera and is the only camera that can make something like this – 4K, up to 120 fps, up to 6400 ISO at night with only street lights. There are two modes to this camera – Standard and Low Light Mode. We used Low Light Mode for all the night stuff and it was quite clean, we only used Neat Video/Noise reduction on four shots.
For the flashback, boyfriend/girlfriend shots, I used a technique called Light Whacking which was pioneered by a fantastic British DP named James Miller. Basically, you use an old Nikon AIS pancake lens which is detached from the mount and allows for all sorts of flares and weird artifacts. You focus by moving the lens back and forth. Here’s a good tutorial on it by James himself.
PLVNK – TITANIC • 2018
Camera: Red Epic-W
Lenses: Zeiss ZF Primes, Sigma 18-35 f1.8 and Canon 70-200mm f2.8
Misc: Epson Projector, Fluids shot in a fish tank with ink
The key to a good music video is a great song, and Plvnk is great new-ish LA band. Normally, Hip-Hop mixed with Rock is pretty terrible, but these guys do it brilliantly. I’ve been friends with Malcolm Cross, the keyboardist, and drummer, for twenty years and we’ve collaborated on quite a few projects.
This is the first project I used a projector on. I used my MoGraph skills to make all the graphics that were projected. One tip for projectors: they need to be high lumen, I’d say around 5000 at least. This projector was actually too weak at 3000 lumens which caused issues with lighting because we had to under light the talent, otherwise, the projections were too dim. I think had to bring up the ISO to 2400 in post and the image was kind of noisy, so I used Neat Video to clean it up a bit.
I have several projects lined up where I plan to use a projector so probably just going to buy one very soon.
SIMON PETTY – PARIS MY LOVE • 2017
Camera: Red Epic-W and Canon 60D
Lenses: Zeiss ZF Primes, Canon 70-200mm f2.8, Nikon AIS 28mm f2.8, and Nikon AIS 50mm f1.8
I love this song Paris My Love by Simon Petty as it really captures the romance from The City Of Light. I knew we needed actual Paris footage for this to work, so I took my wife on a Paris vacation. She was really happy. I randomly cast Joanna Weryńska who was great. She has a very European fashion sense and Simon’s first words were: “And she’s so French looking!” My wife and I thought so too. However, Joanna’s actually Polish, transplanted to Paris(LOL), like all chic Europeans she makes smoking look super cool. It’s funny because Joanna was about thirty minutes late and we were just about to leave when she showed up.
For the flashback/memories of the lost Parisian love, I used the Light Whacking technique and lucked out as it was a rare sunny Paris day in the middle of winter. This technique only works well if there are light sources to cause the flares.
KEEP – WASHED OUT • 2014
Camera: Sony FS700, Beaulieu 4008 Super 8mm
Lenses: Zeiss ZF Primes and Bealieu Zoom
Misc: Eumig Super 8mm Projector
Keep is an LA-based artisanal shoe brand who often does collaborations with Indie Rock Artists like Animal Collective, Dinosaur Jr., Ad-Rock, and more. This shoe collaboration just happened to be with one of my favorite bands – Washed Out. I started by looking at their branding and I noticed they love flowers, vintage, and pretty images. Also, their Keep shoe featured prints of flowers so I dusted off my old Beaulieu 4008 Super 8mm, loaded some Reversal film stock and shot a bunch of flowers around my house. We got music video muse Ingrid Schram (who has been in some Beach House videos) to sit in a dark room and watch Super 8mm projections of flowers; exactly what a true Washed Out fan would do!
The snail shot was pure luck. We bought and I pulled a bunch of flowers from my garden and this little snail just happened to be on a stalk. We filmed him and then returned him safely back to the garden! I love it when bonus accidents happen.
THE GREEN ZONE • 2016
Camera: Sony FS7
Lenses: Tokina 11-16 f2.8, Canon 24-105 f4, Canon 70-200 f2.8, Zeiss 85mm f1.4
Misc: Metabones Speed Booster, attempted to use a Ronin but mostly handheld on a skateboard
The LA River is this weird environmental monstrosity. Back in 1938, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to pave the river to prevent flooding. Parts of it are slowly being reclaimed by nature and wildlife forming this strangely beautiful dystopian backdrop which is great for filming.
The skater featured here is my regular collaborator Tadashi Suzuki. At first, I tried to use a Ronin but it was too cumbersome and hard to do by myself so I just shot everything from a skateboard. I wish I knew back then to combine the Ronin with the skateboard.
I fell in love with skateboarding at age 13 and it’s such a huge part of who I am. Before skating, I was just this friendless, socially awkward outcast, then skating gave me friends, a purpose and introduced me to most of the cool things in my life – video, graphic design, illustration, great music, and filmmaking. Skateboard videos have been a huge source of inspiration for me and riding a skateboard is also a really cool way to get shots, especially when combined with a Movi. Skating Saves!
I really love the song as well by Milwaukee based artists – Kiings. They were kind enough to do a remixed instrumental version for me, I think the song really adds so much to this video.
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