by Carrie Specht
If you have heard of The Visual Storytelling Tour and had any thought about going I urge you to do so. If you don’t know about this incredible one-day seminar taught by Alex Buono of the SNL film unit and you are an aspiring independent filmmaker, film student, or producer of web content looking to make the most of your projects I suggest you sign up for the next available date ASAP. For all the information, tips, and tricks that Buono packs into a twelve-hour period is worth far beyond the $300 entry fee. In fact, I suspect if this seminar should tour again it is likely to be offered at a more exuberant price, and still be under valued. So, go now while the cost is ridiculously reasonable. If you don’t I promise you you’ll be kicking yourself for missing out on such a golden opportunity to learn how to make the most of a small budget on a tight schedule from someone whose made doing just that his lively hood for more than a dozen years.
To quote from the website, “The Art of Visual Storytelling Tour delivers an intense educational overview of the artistic elements and core principles of cinematography”. And that’s no lie. The class is taught by the Director of Photography of the Saturday Night Live Film Unit, Alex Buono, who is use to having to create product week after week on a very tight schedule. The demands of his work required that he develop a process of shooting that was streamlined while maintaining a high level of quality. Buono has taken all that he has learned over the years of working for SNL and compacted it into an all-day class that will dramatically impact the production value of your projects (no matter what they are) through specialized techniques for lighting, lens selection, blocking, camera movement, audio, workflow, camera settings, visual structure, and more.
I attended the San Diego seminar held on July 16 along with my teaching partner and four of our film students from La Sierra University in Riverside. We knew the day would be interesting and offer a variety of scenarios for lighting on the fly, but we had no idea what to expect. After all, plenty of professional seminars have boasted similar claims, and many have been taught by working professionals but offered little more than what most university film classes already provide. What prompted our interest most was the fact that Buono’s weekly deadlines were in sync with the kind of time limitations demanded of most students. That, and the fact that the days work was going to be produced on a camera our department had just purchased, the Canon EOS C100 and its sisters the C300 and C500.
As it turned out, the Virtual Storytelling seminar really hit it out of the park. To begin with the main part of the day, the Daytime Cinematography Workshop was presented in a setting that we strive for in our own classes – that of an on-set learning experience, mimicking a behind-the scenes look at the process. Buono would show one of the skits he had produced for SNL and then physically demonstrate on the spot how it came together using only the equipment he and his small company had been traveling with from city to city, which consisted of a package small enough to fit into a small moving van.
The day is long, but it goes by very quickly because it is full of the necessary information needed to completely prepare and shoot any given short project. Buono starts out by showing how he breaks down a script shot by shot. He then shows how he scouts locations, design shots, puts together lighting plans, and selects his gear package. Then the practical hands-on element is introduced as scenes are lit and shot by crew Buono selects from the audience, demonstrating exactly how he sets up camera moves, lights a master shot with matching coverage, and works with audio. He takes the footage all the way through his normal on-set workflow, from the camera all the way to the edit using the latest footage management tools. He finishes up with a look to the future of 4K delivery, discussing vital 4K considerations both on set and in post.
Although there is an official Q&A session held at the end of the first portion of the day the seminar is run to allow a free flow of interaction between the audience and Buono. So, when I wanted to know more about the power of a light source I called out my question and Buono answered it. Likewise was done for all the other queries participants had along the way. Additionally, there is a hands-on hour when everyone is allowed to fiddle, examine and play with all of the gear brought to the seminar, including the cutting edge Movi camera mount (think Steadicam without a body harness). Having an opportunity to manipulate the latest cinematic phenomenon was a remarkable moment of inspiration. It was a kinetic way of hitting the point home that each of us in that room can do what Buono does, that if we apply the skills demonstrated that day there’s no reason we can’t create the best commercials, industrials, short films or what have you to the best of our abilities. It’s just a matter of knowing how. And this seminar is where you can learn how.
The first and final parts of the day are available at separate costs. However, I urge you not to miss what was the strongest part of the seminar: the Evening Visual Structure Seminar held from 6pm-9pm. It starts with an overview of all the tools and techniques that Buono has learned by shooting with both DSLRs and Cine-Style cameras at the SNL Film Unit, followed by a focus on Visual Structure. Inspired by the work of visual consultant Bruce Block, Buono identifies and breaks down the use of the seven core visual components of image, which are Space, Line, Shape, Color, Tone, Movement and Rhythm. The stunning Power Point presentation offers example after example of how the masters of filmmaking have used these techniques to create their signature styles, including Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher, the Coen Brothers, and Wes Anderson.
The price is a mere $295 for the Full Experience that includes the Daytime Cinematography Workshop, the Evening Visual Structure Seminar, a DVD of the Cinematography Workshop, the Visual Story textbook by Bruce Block, and a FREE Pass to the 2014 NAB Show in Las Vegas. That’s a crazy lot of bang for the buck. On top of these awesome incentives the first 30 people to sign up for the full experience in each city receive “Crew Seats”, which is seating in the front of the class. Crewmembers are chosen first to become part of the manpower pool during the filmmaking demonstrations, they get a Visual Storytelling CREW t-shirt, and one will win a private lunchtime portfolio review session with Alex Buono. With so much to gain from one 12 hour experience I’d say this is the best offer any aspiring filmmaker will ever come across. Don’t miss out!
Go to visualstorytellingtour.com to find out which West Coast cities are yet to be held and how many tickets remain.