Total read time: 6-8 minutes. Alex Buono doesn’t just teach, he helps you learn the art of making films. That is exactly what I got out of his full day Visual Story Telling Workshop Tour that stopped off here in Toronto plus a whole lot more than I expected.
It’s been a while since I put down the camera and actually wrote a long tail blog post, but after spending the day with Alex Buono yesterday I had to grab the laptop and share my experience. I started following Alex Buono after contemplating buying a Canon C300 about a year and half ago. Online snippets from his seminars where he spoke for Canon and why he liked working with the camera helped me seal the deal and I immediately bought one for the studio and have never looked back. When I got a note from the Toronto Film Industry Meetup Group that this Academy-Award nominated filmmaker was coming to town, I didn’t flinch to buy a ticket for the “Full Experience Package” offered through his Visual Story Telling Tour that is making its way across North America with Toronto being number 6 on the 31 city schedule.
I was suffering from a little creative burnout since most of the work I’ve been doing over the last 7 years has been either training videos, corporate productions sprinkled with the occasional shoot where a client gives me full creative freedom. Don’t get me wrong I am blessed to have steady work month after month and the studio keeps us really busy with rentals regularly. However, Alex’s course was just what the doctor ordered in my mind for a little professional development and to fire up the creative inspiration. From the moment he got up there he kept me (and the rest of the 100 participants I estimated) engaged straight through until 9pm. It wasn’t just because he dazzled us with awesome Canon camera rigs (although it helped), but because his workshop was truly a ‘show and tell’ and giving some real good examples of what is possible and how he does things. He’s no stranger to making things look good and happen fast with a small crew, considering he’s also the DP for Saturday Night Live’s Film Unit. And after learning more about his turnaround times I was very impressed to say the least. Let’s not even go into when he talked about the days of film.
Gear, Gear and More Gear
If you are a gear head (like me), he had plenty of cool stuff to check out from the new Mōvi M10 (which was only 1 of 6 in the world at the time of this writing) that we all had the opportunity to grab and play around with (see the video below) along with Kessler sliders, cool plasma lights and tonnes of grip equipment. What blew me away is that he and a small crew haul all of it in a trailer and I just can’t believe how much gear they bring. It puts my griping and moaning about bringing an extra Kino and some extra stands just in case to shame. What was really cool was seeing the Mōvi in action. It was truly remarkable and I can see how this new device will be a game changer. It’s certainly on my radar now. I was particularly interested in seeing the fully packaged Canon cine-style camera lineup from the C100 to the C500 which was on one of the nicest tripod heads I have ever used. The O’Connor 2575D Head was something else. The Hive Wasp Par Plasma Light was impressive and I couldn’t believe the power and throw out of a fixture with such little electrical draw to it. I own 5 Kino Quad 4’s but I also liked (and am leaning towards) some LED fixtures. The ones he used were rated high on CRI (Colour Rendering Index) and I am already set on picking up a Zylight z-90. That little thing rocks for easy run and gun work.
Show and Tell and more…
I think the real value for me came from watching Alex and how he lit and covered various scenes from some of the different short films he produced for SNL (and his own) and used them as a reference along with a small set he also tags along. What was even cooler was that each participant table had at least two Marshall 17” monitors displaying whatever camera he was using through a Teradeck HD wireless feed. This helped those of us at the back and far sides of the room to clearly see first hand how the scene evolved from the first key light to the finishing touches of some negative fill. Many of us got the chance to get involved and crew along side him and I was happy to be picked and setup the shot on the C500. It wasn’t all about the latest in lighting and cameras as well that makes for a pretty picture. He showed us how it is possible to literally light a scene with a cheap bathroom vanity light, a shower curtain for diffusion with some reflective duct insulation from the Home Depot which looked pretty damn good just the same. I am not sure my clients would go for it, but those on a shoe string budget (and itching to make something), Alex showed it is possible. The principles don’t change and with a little ingenuity and MacGyver skills it’s doable.
Information Overload (in a good way)
Alex provides so much valuable information, I don’t think I have ever written that many notes in all my years of high school or even my days at Ryerson’s Film Program. The bonus here as well with the Visual Story Telling Tour is that I’ll be receiving a copy of the Cinematography workshop on DVD as part of the package I bought due out sometime in July as noted by Alex. A lot of what Alex provides is practical and that is what I really appreciated as someone is consistently making videos in various locations not just the studio. He covered the whole gamut in terms of pre-production, production and of course, his post-production workflow in which I picked up a few nuggets moreover some new apps that I am interested in buying. There was so much great stuff I learned during the day portion I could spend the day just writing this post about it. His style is very open, ask all the questions you wanted and he would give you the answer. He knows his stuff. He frequently commented on how good and detailed our questions were. I am not sure if he was just buttering us Canadians up but he was just as engaged with us as we were with him. His delivery is very personable and he is not one of those ego driven speakers, he truly is a friendly guy. He reminds me of Ron Howard, a sincere and genuine person and the fact that he and Ron are both red headed gentlemen and talented filmmakers is just a coincidence I suppose.
When we got back after dinner it was time to dive into a little bit into the DSLR world, while I have more or less hung up my DSLR now that I have a C300, it was still great information and I learned a few things there too. What undoubtedly blew me away and what left the biggest impression was the visual design lecture. He broke down the 7 components as referenced in The Visual Story by Bruce A. Block which we all received a copy of as well with our registration kits. Alex used clips and then broke them down to demonstrate the various ways some of the greats in Hollywood (and Europe) like Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson & Michael Mann (two of my favorites) used visual design to parallel the story structure itself. Maybe because I love films and the art of making them, I was again utterly fascinated seeing the way things work. With so many years of so much corporate work I totally lost sight of much of the time, creativity and skill of what makes film making so f*&^* fascinating and when done right totally draws me right in.
I read this quote on Vincent Laforet’s blog who also praises Alex’s education style and I think Jon Conner, co-founder of Masters in Motion, shooteditlearn.com nailed it:
Alex essentially crammed four years of film school into a mesmerizing two-hour tour de force performance that left people’s brains aching from information overload.
Only in our case, we hit the mother lode with Alex Buono’s Visual Story Telling Tour. Making the decision to take the day off, turn off the emails, phone calls and totally immerse myself in some learning from a true cinematic professional was amazing. I can’t say enough good things about this workshop. For $295.00 I walked away with a wealth of information, practical advice and plenty of post-event references and more ideas I could ever have picked up in one day. Best of all, I even won a copy of the Visual Structure DVD at the end of the night. Can you say BONUS?? By 9pm we wrapped and my wife happened to pick me up with our two boys and I felt just like one of them sharing all the amazing things I had just learned that day. They could tell their Dad was inspired and excited and so did my wife. Excited to the point where I picked up and dusted off my copy of Story by Robert McKee that night and finally made the decision it’s time to start writing and tell my own story visually thanks to Alex and truly fun and informative workshop.
There’s a difference between teaching and learning and Alex certainly knows the difference. You can learn more about Alex Buono’s Visual Story Telling Workshop by clicking here.
UPDATE: July 17, 2013
My sincerest apologies (and gratitude) to author Bruce A. Block whom I referenced in this post. He was kind enough to point out I had mistakenly linked to the wrong Bruce Block Wiki page when I first published this post. It has since been updated and please check out more about Bruce and his amazing book The Visual Story.