Last Week: Alida’s Birthday & More

Monday, Jan. 21st: DRAT! Ok, for anybody unfamiliar with the workings of a camera, here’s a quick lesson so you understand my problem.

There are basically 3 ways to expose your digital “film.” The first 2 involve letting light into the camera. Aperture is size of the the iris that opens up and allows a controlled amount of light through the lens. Shutter speed is the length of time each frame is open, allowing the light to pour in. The third way to brighten things up is to raise the gain, or the digital version of the ISO, which means the film’s sensitivity. The higher the gain/ISO, the brighter the image gets, but there’s a catch: as you raise the gain/ISO, you start to see more and more noise/grain.

Here’s my problem: The gain control on my work camera (a Canon XL-H1,) displays the gain level right in the middle of the screen- unless it’s set to “auto,” where it causes the most trouble.

So when I accidentally set it to “auto,” and set my camera levels in the studio, the gain raised up to compensate for my dark background. Confused, I closed the iris more, letting less light in, which told the camera to crank up the gain some more. I repeated until I maxed out the amount of gain the camera was able to give out and the image finally settled where I wanted it.

Since I was looking through the tiny viewfinder, I didn’t notice until I was home that I had the grainiest footage I’ve ever worked with.

“No worries,” I said to myself, “After Effects has some pretty sweet noise reduction filters!” I edited the video and set it to render out with the filters. The estimated completion time was 10+ hours, so I went to bed. When I woke up, it wasn’t even halfway finished, so I canceled it and figured out another way.

It all worked out alright in the end, but it really drives me crazy that the catastrophic “auto gain” setting doesn’t even show up on screen to let you know it’s ruining your footage.

Tuesday, Jan. 22nd: Filmed a really close basketball game between Meridian and Central A&M. It was lots of fun to watch, so check it out HERE!

I also finished and posted the latest episode of “Ken Reads Erotica,” which you may already know about if you read the last post. Either way, check it out HERE and subscribe!

Wednesday, Jan. 23rd: Spent most of the day entering tons of ads for a digital career fair. At the end of the day, as I was finishing up the ads, we had some exciting breaking news. The police had just released audio from the 911 call made by an off-duty officer who shot and killed an intruder. The audio was really chilling, but if you want to hear the whole thing, from the break-in to the shooting, take a listen HERE!

Thursday, Jan. 24th: Went with Alida to Millikin’s Art Faculty Biennial. Alida had a few photos in the show, and it never gets old to go see her artwork up alongside our former professors.

It seems like it wasn’t long ago that we were hanging shows as students. Now she’s upgraded to peer and co-worker to our teachers. It’s pretty cool to see. Alida is also an official mentor to one of the photography students, who came by to join us while we were talking with Ed Walker, one of Alida’s mentors. Alida pointed out that Ed was a Grandmentor to her protege. I’m hoping her protege becomes a mentor soon so Ed can take the next step to Great-Grandmentor.

Friday, Jan 25th: High school kids don’t really need an incentive to play dodgeball, but when you tell them it’s to help a teacher’s little cousin battle Cystic Fibrosis, it doesn’t hurt attendance. I had the honor of watching Argenta-Oreana High School students play a few rounds of dodgeball for a really cool little kid with a sweet Batman watch. Check it out:

After almost getting hit in the face a few times, I filmed from the stands, but our photographer Mark braved it out and took a couple hits.

Saturday, Jan. 26th: Went to a costume sale at Millikin and picked up a pretty cool wig to use in an upcoming sketch. I also snagged a weird pair of furry gloves that look kind of like animal hands. The gloves are odd, but the wig is really nice. I got both for $3, and Alida got a cool faux-leather jacket for $4.

That evening we went out to dinner, but let’s rewind for a second: the day after Christmas, I tweeted a picture of a grilled cheese from Cheesie’s on Chicago’s north side. A bunch of friends chewed me out for tempting them with food they couldn’t get in central Illinois. Well fear no more:

Grown Up Grilled Cheese: Tender, slow-roasted Provimi Beef layered between four slices of Cheddar and white American cheeses then grilled golden on our potato bread.

This is from Cheddar’s, which is a chain, so you can get it pretty much anywhere, and it was just like the awesome sandwich I got from Cheesies. As suggested by the waitress, I subbed out mayo for BBQ, and it was amazing.

You’re welcome.

If you’re in Central Illinois and crave Chicago-style food, here are a few local substitutes:

  • Greasy Fried Rice: Not that saffron crap with peas and carrots. I’m talking about brown, full of egg, green onion, and bean sprouts. If that’s what you crave, go to China House on Eldorado and Jasper.
  • Pizza- By the Slice: Pizza has lots of categories, especially when you’re comparing to Chicago. Best place to walk in and grab a slice is Sloan’s Calzones on Merchant and Prarie.
  • Pizza- Deep Dish: Don’t have time to drive to a Chicagoland Giordano’s, and don’t feel like spending $60 to have Lou Malnati’s mail one to you in dry ice? Go to Sloans again. It’s not on the menu, so you need to ask nicely.
  • Hot Dogs: If you want a good Chicago dog, go to University Dogs on Oakland and Wood.
  • Pizza Puffs: Would you like your pizza deep fried so it can clog your arteries quicker? Grab a pizza puff at University Dogs or at Tasty’s Chicago Grill. As Tasty’s name implies, they have a typical Chicago fast food menu with a great gyro.

And here are a couple I’m still looking for:

  • Pizza- South-Side: Hard to describe this type of pizza, but it’s what I grew up on. Places like Phil’s or Danny’s with a not-quite-thick-or-thin crust, homemade everything, and real sausage (not the little frozen pizza meatballs.) Unfortunately nobody has this in Decatur anymore. There used to be a place called Damon & Devin’s, but they went under and I never figured out why.
  • Breaded Steak: Most well-known from Ricobene’s in Chicago, but I prefer to get it from Freddie’s on 31st and Union. It’s amazing, and impossible for me to finish in one sitting, especially with fries. If we had this in Decatur, or anywhere nearby, I would be a more complete person.

Ok, #fatkid rant over.

Sunday, Jan. 27th: Alida’s birthday!

We had planned on making a trip to see a friend in Indiana, but she had some scheduling conflicts. Since a fun part of Alida’s birthday celebration was rescheduled, I decided to still include it as a present. I put together a pretty fun travel ticket with some “vouchers” for different activities to do when we go.

I was actually pretty surprised to see how much cool stuff there is to do in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Kudos to their visitors website.

After she opened presents, we went to hang out with her parents. Her dad was fresh off having some work done on his back, so I got to help out with a few small farm chores. I could tell he didn’t want to impose and put me to work, but it wasn’t asking much at all. Not only do I love being around the animals, but I’m also from Chicago. Going to a farm was a field trip for me when I was little. So even if I have to get my hands dirty and drag out a big metal pen filled with goat waste, I’m still a bit enchanted by the whole experience.

I’m sure if I did it every day the novelty would wear off, just like any daily routine, but for me it was fun. Do you think you need to ask me twice to climb up the hay bales in the barn to find the chicken’s nest and get the eggs? Absolutely not! It’s hard enough to resist climbing them for fun, so if you give me a reason to climb up to the rafters of the barn, I’m halfway up before you finish your sentence.

Sunday was also the last day of my friend Doug Bishop’s production of “Leaving Iowa,” and he was in a pinch. His videographer was sick and unable to film. I was busy, but fortunately we have a pretty good network of creative friends, and our buddy Jim Cloney was able to help him out. Jim only had one HD camera available, so I lent him mine to complete the setup. From my experience, it REALLY helps to have a second camera when you shoot anything live.

I don’t mention this to brag on myself for being generous, but to point out again how great people are in this area, especially in the art community. When a fellow artist is in need, it only takes a couple of phone calls to solve just about any problem. I have been on the receiving end of lots of favors, and seen lots of people donate their time and talents to me and my creative vision. It’s nice to be able to pay it forward, and return favors.

Ken reading erotica

If you’re into watching an angry journalist read a dirty book about S&M, good news- we have a new episode!

 

I also changed up the navigation again to add a special page for the “Ken Reads Erotica” series.

I’m really excited, because since refreshing my YouTube channel, I discovered how nice it looked to embed entire playlists:

Behind the scenes, I really like Vimeo as a video hosting website, but they only support embedding entire channels in standard definition, and that’s lame. The added bonus for YouTube is the subscriptions, so I’m sticking with that.

I also updated the “Films and Sketches” section of this site. Instead of having every film I’ve ever done embedded on one long page, they’re all tucked neatly into one playlist. So have a look and please subscribe!

And because you can never have too much of an uncomfortable thing, Ken Lowe also has a blog to share even more of his thoughts on “50 Shades of Grey.” Enjoy at kenreadserotica.wordpress.com!

Oh yeah! He’s also got a twitter account! Follow him at @KenReadsErotica!

 

Last Week: Plays, Presentations, & Piano

Monday, Jan. 14th: Nothing to report, just another Monday at the office.

Tuesday, Jan. 15th: Filmed an exciting basketball game between our 2 city teams: Eisenhower and MacArthur. No matter who is having a better season, when they play each other it always comes down to the wire, and this was no different. Video HERE!

As I was transferring footage that night, I had a breakthrough with my 15mm rig setup. I’ll elaborate more on this in a separate post, but I finally came up with a quick way to transfer the camera setup from a tripod to my shoulder. The way I had it before, the balance had to be adjusted if I went from one to the other. Now I can swap out as often as I want without wasting time adjusting gear.

Wednesday, Jan. 16th: I got to give another presentation! I was scheduled to speak at the Decatur Area Arts Council in May, but this week’s speaker had an injury and wasn’t able to make it. (He’s OK now, by the way.)

I was asked to talk about the process of making a movie from start to finish. It went really well and I got to speak to a great group. I had some friends in the crowd, and got to meet some new people. Afterward I was able to stick around and chat, and met some kids who had a film in this year’s 21 Film Project. They had lots of questions and it was fun to pass along some of the things I’ve learned making movies over the past couple years.

Check out the Decatur Area Arts Council website to see what other events they have coming up. One that I’m really looking forward to is “Improvisation with Angie,” hosted by the actress that starred in our Doritos spot, Variety Packin’.

Thursday, Jan. 17th: At South Shores School, some of the kids get to go to the Macon County Animal Shelter on Fridays and read to the animals. It’s a really cool idea, because the kids get excited about reading and the animals get some quality time with someone. Thursday I filmed a class making dog treats from scratch. Anytime you get kids measuring and mixing messy ingredients, it’s guaranteed to be an entertaining shoot. Video HERE!

After work I started production on a new segment  that I’ve wanted to do for a while. I’m no expert at filmmaking, but I have picked up some tricks along the way and figured out some things that I didn’t see anywhere else on filmmaker websites.

I figured it was time to take the things I’ve learned and share with the masses. Eventually I’ll probably have a specific “Tips & Tricks” link on the this site, but until then, check out the first episode of “Just the Tips!”

 

Friday, Jan. 18th: Went with Alida to see “Leaving Iowa,” a fantastic play put on by some great friends.

Doug Bishop, who has starred in many of my movies, did an awesome job directing. I also knew most of the cast and crew, and they were all amazing. If you’re in Central Illinois, go see this play and support my friends in Theatre 7! You can buy tickets HERE!

Saturday, Jan. 19th:  Finally redesigned my YouTube page! I’m still working on it, but it’s a lot cleaner now, and everything is organized into playlists. I also started making those clever little bumpers at the end that point you toward other videos to watch and beg for subscriptions. So take a look and subscribe please!

I also finished a really fun wedding montage. A good friend of mine ( and the sister of one of my best friends) got married in Starved Rock State Park. I got to spend the weekend partying with their huge family and filming the festivities. Have a look!

 

Sunday, Jan. 20th: Had another sketch-writing meeting, and decided to be pro-active and just shoot something. We whipped up a script and knocked it out really fast! During the editing process, I found a lot of great music on FreeMusicArchive.org. If you’re looking for royalty free music, it’s a great resource.  Here’s the finished product!

 

Update: I almost forgot to mention the Beatles! Before writing sketches, Ken Lowe and I sat around the piano and played some music. There’s no way to describe how cool it feels to hammer out “Hey Bulldog” and work on harmonies.
After Ken left, Alida and I hung out and played some more music. We used to play a lot more often, and just kept packing our schedules tighter and tighter. It felt good to get back at the piano, so hopefully we keep that part of the routine this time.

Last Week: Not a Dull Moment

Monday, Jan. 7th:  Not too much going on aside from my normal Monday routine.

Tuesday, Jan. 8th: Shot basketball in Pana, where I had the saltiest popcorn in the world. One bite and I was instantly dehydrated and feeling ill. Probably shouldn’t have finished the bag…

Wednesday, Jan. 9th: Filmed a fun story at the library, where a group met to discuss children’s books that adults would enjoy. Story and video HERE!

One of the speakers was Alissa Henkel, a fun actress who I met through my friend Sue Bishop. They work together in a really great library program called READiculous, where they act out children’s books. VIDEO and STORY here!

Sue & Alissa - Herald & Review Photo/Jim Bowling

It was fun to catch up with Alissa, because she almost acted in one of our Doritos commercials this year. Unfortunately (for me) she was on a cruise, and wasn’t available before the deadline. After talking to her, it was nice to know she’s still looking forward to do some acting. Hopefully I’ll be ready to shoot something soon!

Thursday, Jan. 10th: Did a story at a Durfee Magnet School, where 5th graders are doing more complex animation than I’ve ever done. Basically, instead of doing a plain paper report on the book they read over Christmas break, they’re doing animation on iPads. They used a free app called Toontastic, and now I really wish I had an iPad so I could try it out. Story and video HERE!

I came home from work to find a new toy on my doorstep: I finally broke down and bought a 47″ Konova slider!

Without spending too much time on the technical aspects, because the internet is flooded with reviews/tests/comparisons, I will give a few reasons why this thing is awesome:

  • It’s the least expensive ball-bearing slider you can get, and from what I’ve read ball-bearing > friction.
  • You can set it up any way imaginable: with included legs, on a tripod, light stands, and more.
  • It’s extremely lightweight. When I saw the box, I cursed Amazon for not sending the carrying case and accessories it was supposed to include. When I opened the box, I was surprised to see that everything fit in there, because it’s a tiny little piece of awesome.

Here’s a really short test video I did with it. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it really demonstrates how versatile the slider is. This was all with one tripod and the slider, shot pretty much as soon as I pulled it out of the box.

 

Here are the setups I used for the video. Mounted horizontally, diagonally, and vertically. I’m really excited about using this in a movie soon!

 

Friday, Jan. 11th: Spent the morning speaking to kids at an 8th Grade Career Fair.

I love my job, so it’s really easy to fill the time talking about what I do, why I do it, and what sort of skills and values they are learning apply to my career. I ended the presentation on a slide that showed off some advice my dad gave me and my brother. It’s two steps, and it’s fantastic advice: 1- Find something you love to do. 2- Find a way to get paid doing it.

I’ll just take this time to point out that Google Drive is amazing. While I was debating on how to do this year’s presentation, I discovered that they now offer a program similar to PowerPoint. In no time at all, I was able to drag in photos from my computer, add text and animation, and view my presentation from any computer connected to the internet. Simply amazing. That being said, someday Google will turn on us and rule us from space or something. I’m calling it right here.

After lunch, what was supposed to be a pretty standard afternoon turned into a rush to deliver breaking news. Early in the morning, an officer was shot in the leg during a raid. I sped through McDonalds drive-thru and made my way to the police station. The officer was in “stable condition and good spirits” at the time of the press conference. Story and video HERE!

A few of us showed up early, because it’s not pretty when you come in and start setting up cameras in the middle of an important announcement. While I was chatting with a TV camera guy, we got talking about DLSR filmmaking, and he said he was interested in helping out making movies. This made two days in a row that a work shoot turned into networking for films.

After all of that excitement, I was able to unwind and watch my wife play with the Curators.

Her co-worker, and band frontman, Jake Tolbert is raising money to spend 2 weeks in China doing mission work. They played a great gig for a good cause. Check them out on Facebook!

Saturday, Jan. 12th: Not to be outdone by Friday, Saturday was packed with excitement.

First, we started the day off with an engagement shoot near Springfield. The couple was a lot of fun, and won Alida and I over even more when they mentioned they had baby pigs. Not just babies- newborns… less than 24-hours-old newborns. Any shoot that involves hanging out with baby animals is a success in my book.

After that we headed to the opposite side of Springfield to hang out with some friends of ours and take some photos of their 1-year-old. This is my second time helping out with a shoot like this, and I’ve yet to see a kid really tear into the cake. This little guy took his time and was more interested in taking small bites than with burrowing through the cake. Still, it was a good time.

Before we made our way back to Decatur, we made sure to stop by and catch up with one more set of friends from Springfield. We don’t see these guys nearly enough, so it’s always fun to have some free time after shoots in that area.

I didn’t think the day could get any better, and then we had dinner at Dublin Pub. What’s so great about that? Buffalo chicken horseshoe pizza. You read that right. I have no idea how it was physically possible, but it happened, and it was amazing.

Sunday, Jan. 13th: Sunday was very productive, but definitely a nice, slow pace to finish off the week.

In the morning, I hosted the first of what I hope is many sketch-writing meetings! It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, since so many of the ideas we bounce around when writing films are in short sketch format. So until we get into production on a short film, we’re going to be meeting to develop some sketches. If all goes well, hopefully we’ll be able to produce some really funny stuff on a regular basis.

So keep your eye out, and if you want to participate with writing or acting, drop me a line!

New pages

I just added some new links to the menu tab up top!

The “My Movies” tab has always been there, containing all of my film work. But I realized that I didn’t have a place to just post behind-the-scenes photos. And I love those photos, so it made sense to add a special place for them. Check out the “Photo Galleries” tab to browse through a bunch of slideshows.

And another tab that I put up a while back but never mentioned is for “Streaming Live.” I did some live broadcast tests with my iPhone and iPod, and it went really well. So someday I may announce a time that I’ll be doing a live broadcast of a shoot or tutorial. When I do, it’ll be embedded “Streaming Live” page. If you go there now, it’s just a looping slideshow. You can click through if you want to see the test footage of Ken reading 50 Shades of Grey.

That’s all for now. Lots more new and exciting stuff coming soon!

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