7th Annual Emerging Pro Finalists

Thanks to support from RED, Zeiss and Adobe, this year’s Emerging Pro contest was a huge success. It was the most unique contest we’ve ever put together. The contest was open to still photographers, as well as filmmakers, and it was promoted to readers of Digital Photo Pro and HDVideoPro magazines. The competition was held in two distinct stages. The first was an open submission period during which time entrants were encouraged to submit a project they had previously completed. We reviewed and evaluated those submissions, and from all of the entries, we selected a group of Finalists who were given a RED EPIC camera and four weeks to shoot and submit an original project.

Like being on the infamous TV show, Chopped, being selected as a Finalist was only part of the battle. The few who made it through the first stage had to deliver something completely new on an extremely tight deadline. As we go to press, the final judging and verification stages of the 7th Annual Emerging Pro contest are happening. You can see all of the final projects at http://www.digitalphotopro.com/7th-annual-emerging-pro/finalists.html. In this issue, we highlight a few of the finalists and ask them about the projects they submitted.

FILMMAKER: Christoph Gelfand
PROJECT: Farm

DPP: What’s the story behind Farm?

Christoph Gelfand: For years my friend, Robin, has been a wanderer. Although she’s a terrifically gifted artist and writer, she has been moving from farm to farm all over the U.S. and abroad. There’s a freedom to her travels that I’ve always admired, being a more stationary sort myself, to some extent. I wanted to capture Robin for who she is, while also expanding upon her experience on the farm. The goal was to show Robin without really showing her face too much or seeing her speak on camera. I wanted to create something more ethereal.

I’ve visited the farm Robin works a number of times. We’d spend hours listening to the wind through the trees or jumping in the river. There’s no Internet and her cabin is completely solar-powered so you feel pretty close to living off the grid. I noticed that I felt different on the farm, and it seemed like a compelling challenge to bring to the screen this feeling the environment evoked. The operative word was "simple." Simple is a way of life on the farm. Things happen slower, and you appreciate sounds and weather in a unique way. I knew I could just talk to Robin and find the story in her words. I imagined something in the style of Terrence Malick that would allow words and sounds to meld together, and for the most part, I think I achieved that.

DPP: You were given a very short window to create this video. How did you manage your time? What was your workflow like?

Gelfand: Honestly, the short timeline definitely freaked me out a little! I’ve worked with EPIC and SCARLET cameras on set, but I’ve never operated one solo. So there was this initial sense that with shooting, then processing, then transcoding, then editing, then mixing that there simply wouldn’t be enough time. I was really surprised at how easily the shoot went. The piece was shot in two days and then transcoded and processed the next day and night. I shot on a Friday and Saturday and was editing by Monday. I actually cut the piece over the course of three days and nights, and then spent about a week tweaking.

DPP: Did you come up with the idea for this project specifically for this contest, or was this a piece you already had in mind and you took this opportunity to create it?

Gelfand: I did create this piece specifically for this project. In fact, it was really a breath of fresh air being able to autonomously plan and process a film from beginning to end, again, without clients or any other outside influence. It has been awhile since I’ve been able to really focus on pieces that were dedicated to the art and craft of filmmaking as opposed to any promotional goals. It was a lot of fun to just play around and shoot. Very fulfilling! DPP: Did you place more of an emphasis on visual or audio storytelling, or did they play an equal role?

Gelfand: I definitely pictured the shots in my piece beforehand, but the audio really drives the piece for me. Pretty pictures are always great, but when sound is truly engineered, it really brings you into the story. The farm felt so alive with insects and birds and wind and water. There was just this essence that couldn’t be fulfilled with mere visuals. However, the slow-motion abilities of the EPIC are clearly outstanding, and being able to employ 240 fps was a treat.

DPP: Where was your location? How did you choose it?

Gelfand: We shot at Wolf Pine Farm in Alfred, Maine. The farm is the home and workplace of my subject, Robin. Since the location itself was such an integral part of the piece, it was easy to choose where to shoot, in this case.

DPP: Did you use specific shooting techniques or gear to deal with the location or any environmental challenges?

Gelfand: I operated fairly lightweight. I kept all necessary lenses on my person and just tromped back and forth through the fields. We would use a van or pickup to move gear from one end of the farm to the other. Environmentally, the weather mostly held up. It was definitely unpredictable, but I think that worked well for some killer time-lapses.

DPP: Looking to the future, what’s next for you? What new projects or dream jobs, short term or long term?

Gelfand: I’m collaborating with a creative partner, Caroline Losneck, on an installation called Fyke Tide, which is loosely based on three months of audio recordings, video and photographs we captured during the 2013 elver eel fishing season in southern Maine. We actually just did a test run at the Camden International Film Festival that was really thrilling. Our goal is to expand it to larger gallery spaces and other U.S. markets. Other projects include an ongoing, as-yet-untitled short documentary about my wife Katie’s sleep-talking habits and also a feature documentary film about the history of the answering machine.

FILMMAKER: Maya Ragazzo
PROJECT: Seep

DPP: What’s the story behind Seep?

Maya Ragazzo: Seep is a self-portrait that explores identity as blankly as possible. I wanted little connotations associated with the piece, and tried to create a world that could possibly exist anywhere. I’m painted white in order to look pure and rid myself of my normal appearance. The liquid in the piece is meant to wash away my concealed facade. As I slowly wipe away the material that’s obscuring me, I’m revealing my natural characteristics. However, I never truly reveal my actual self in order to let the viewer be in the position to decide what they think I could be. Seep is really a reflection of how others can have a certain view of you, which is often skewed in relation to how you think of yourself.

DPP: You were given a very short window to create this video. How did you manage your time? What was your workflow like?

Ragazzo: The timing of the film was very stressful. I had just started my first week of sophomore year at MICA as I started the project. I first spent time with the camera and tried to scout out which locations would work best withi
n my parameters. While I spend my time at school in Baltimore, I don’t have access to a car or some of the other lighting equipment I have at my home in California, so I had to work with my limitations. I then shot for two days, followed by a week and a half of postproduction.

DPP: Did you create this project specifically for this contest, or was this a piece you already had in mind and you took this opportunity to create it?

Ragazzo: I created this piece specifically for the project.

DPP: What’s the significance of the title, Seep?

Ragazzo: The word "seep" felt right with the mysterious feel of the piece. Literally, seep relates to the liquid seeping into my skin. Figuratively, seep refers to the outer influences of others that often "seep" into inner conscious, how we, as people, are often shaped on how we’re brought up and whom we’re surrounded by. Our environments are very influential to our beings, and our surroundings constantly seep into ourselves.

DPP: How does the audio piece influence the story of the video?

Ragazzo: The audio was important in setting the mood for the piece.

The sound gives the character a slight eeriness and mystery that I wanted to portray to the audience. Since the piece is primarily constructed of visuals and audio, these two elements play very closely together in heightening the elements that are at work. It’s especially important when the liquid is pouring over me, for the sound and the visuals are very closely connected and are supposed to almost make you shiver, and really feel the flow of liquid over my face and ears. I’m very thankful to have my good friend Jesse Nyiri contribute music to the piece. He also wrote the music for my previous film, James.

DPP: How did the environment contribute to your piece?

Ragazzo: I chose to shoot in nature for several reasons. Visually, I thought my white appearance stood out well in contrast to the green background. Also, the natural background exaggerates my earlier point that I wanted a piece that was set in any given time or place. By excluding buildings and other elements of our constructed society, the work could stand out on its own as a timeless piece without any context clues of the outside world.

DPP: Looking to the future, what’s next for you?

Ragazzo: As of right now, I’m focusing on photography and sculpture as a student at MICA. However, film will always interest me and be a passion of mine. My dream job is to work for Nick Park on one of his animations. I love making sets and models, and it would be amazing to work behind the scenes on one of his productions. FILMMAKER: Andy Gehrig
PROJECT: Flinch

DPP: What’s the story behind Flinch?

Andy Gehrig: Creating a project combining materials in motion and human beings was the goal of my work. I love experimenting with different materials, and I like to capture that unique moment when they’re in motion or when they collide with something. I also focused on showing the various different possibilities a RED EPIC offers.
DPP: You were given a very short window to create this video. How did you manage your time? What was your workflow like?

Gehrig: Coming up with an idea was the hardest part. It took me awhile until a decent concept was created. Shooting was interesting, challenging, but fun. It was a new experience for me. The hardest and most time-consuming part was the editing. It took me days to get the final piece together.

DPP: Did you create this project specifically for this contest, or was this a piece you already had in mind and you took this opportunity to create it?

Gehrig: I created the project just for the contest. Since I’m a photographer, creating a motion project was something new for me, but I did enjoy it a lot. I’ll definitely work on a follow-up version of Flinch, using even more different materials.

DPP: Why did you choose the word and the physical response of Flinch?

Gehrig: My department chair actually came up with the name. I think the name fits perfectly to what I’ve created. When throwing the materials at the models, they "flinch," making a quick, nervous movement, so there was no better name for the project.

DPP: How did you choose the materials used to cause the flinch response?

Gehrig: I’m always experimenting with different materials for my pictures, so it was easy to decide what materials I’d be using for the project. The important point was that the materials are colorful so that I could create a nice contrast.

DPP: Was there a theme to the color palette, music, etc.? How did that relate to the title?

Gehrig: When I started the project, I just had in mind that I wanted a white background and models wearing white make-up. Because of the colorful materials, I could create a nice contrast between the models and the materials. The music had been chosen after the shooting, but I knew that I wanted to use modern dance music before I even started working on the project. Music is very important, and it can make a project be successful or a total failure.

DPP: Looking to the future, what’s next for you?

Gehrig: My next project is to finish school and get my BA. I hope that in between I’ll find a job where I can do what I love the most—taking pictures and work as a photographer. I’d like to work as a commercial photographer, but wouldn’t mind getting a job with National Geographic, either. FILMMAKER: Jonathan Brooks
PROJECT: 5 Skulls

DPP: What’s the story behind 5 SKULLS?

Jonathan Brooks: The story revolves around the five skull characters The Heiress, The Songstress, The Socialite, The Sergeant and The Mystic—and the discovery of their skulls, a video message on a tablet and the five 8×10 portraits of each by the main character, The Ringmaster. I wanted to create a modern film noir that was very atmospheric and that incorporated color, as well. I carefully wanted to create classic and timeless images that could work both in color or black-and-white. I was striving to intrigue the viewer and leave him/her wanting to know more about these characters and their circumstances. I ultimately wanted to leave them with certain images and scenes imbedded in their mind.

DPP: You were given a very short window to create this video. How did you manage your time? What was your workflow like?

Brooks: Immediately, I concentrated on creating the five main images that the story would revolve around. Once they were created, the story seemed to loosely fall into place and I was able to come up with the storyboard. Seeing that this was going to be such a short film, I thought it should be a bit of a teaser, but also have a flow and purpose—to introduce the five skull characters. I then concentrated on familiarizing myself with the RED EPIC kit I had been sent. At first, I was a bit intimidated by this amazing equipment, but quickly I was surprised by its ease of use. I was in awe of
the countless features of the RED and the capacity of this incredible creative tool. I had a couple of brief meetings with my partner in crime Andres Rivera and then tried to get as much preproduction stuff like additional equipment, props, locations, etc., out of the way before actual shooting began. I spent one day familiarizing myself a bit with the camera and did some test shooting in the Everglades. Then, Andres and I worked around our schedules in order to finish the project in just a matter of a few days that were spaced throughout the time frame that I had the equipment on loan.

DPP: Did you create this project specifically for this contest, or was this a piece you already had in mind and you took this opportunity to create it?

Brooks: A bit of both. I had these 13 skulls on hand from a still-image art project I was just starting to play around with, and then this fantastic opportunity helped to transform that idea into something grander.

DPP: What’s the interplay between your video and photo elements? Should viewers experience one before the other, or are they equal contributors to the overall project?
Brooks: The video and photo elements were created to work independently and also together as a whole. The overall project was constructed so that the viewer could experience them in whatever order they choose. But I do feel that the short film works best first, then followed by the viewer getting a closer look at the five still images.
DPP: Do you have a preference for still photography or filmmaking?

Brooks: My first love has always been photography, but I’ve always been an avid cinema and film fan. I had actually been dying to take a stab at film for quite a while, but was waiting for the right opportunity to arise. Having had this incredible chance has helped me to get my feet wet and stirred my juices even more for moving pictures. I have a newfound appreciation for motion that I didn’t have prior to this experience.

DPP: What inspired the five skull images? What inspired, and how did you develop, the video storyline?

Brooks: I was looking to transform my photography aesthetics to cinematography and come up with a project that had an Alfred Hitchcock-meets-Herb Ritts—my cinema and photography idols—kind of vibe. I strived for a dark and sensual atmosphere with an art film feel that remained both classic and modern. I turned to music as an inspiration. "Devil Woman" by Cliff Richards, "One Of These Nights" by The Eagles, "Dark Lady" by Cher, "Black Magic Woman" by Santana were always playing as I conceived my project. These old-school hits seemed to help merge my ideas and visions. I also wanted to make sure that my love of old classic horror films was represented in my project.

DPP: Looking to the future, what’s next for you?

Brooks: I’ll be creating a Director’s Cut using some of the footage that didn’t make it into the project. I’ll continue working on my fine-art photography and visual arts, and now that my first short film, 5 SKULLS, is under my belt, I’ll also see where that path takes me. I’ll be attempting to launch my first book project The True Cuba on Kickstarter.com. It’s a project I put on hold to create 5 SKULLS. And, who knows, 5 SKULLS could develop into a longer short or independent film. I’ll forever be extremely grateful for this incredible opportunity.

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