Case Study: The Singletons

Is it possible to make a fully socially-distanced film where no one has to actually put themselves into contact with any other person, be it cast or crew, and thereby eliminate any threat of transmission of the corona virus? And can it actually look like a real film?

Hilari Scarl directing Hilary Barraford

A few weeks into the Covid-19 shutdown in Los Angeles a writer-director friend of mine called to say she wanted to make a short film using remote, socially-distanced techniques. I had already seen a few projects where filmmakers were trying their hands at this, and the late night talk shows were already making their shows in a homemade fashion, and I was intrigued at the idea of taking this all one step further. Could we actually make a film where the actors, in different locations, looked as if they were interacting with each other in the same space?

The cast, director, and myself would need to be able to hold a rehearsal, scout locations in each of the cast’s individual homes to find areas that can appear to be extensions of the same location, and then film the project in a way that freed the actors from the concern of technical issues of the process so they could just focus on their performances.

Enter Boinx

Making of The Singletons
Jeff Gatesman Directing the photography

I had just finished a project for one of my corporate clients wherein we used the streaming software MimoLive to record interviews for a conference they had decided would now be virtual (instead of their long-planned live conference) due to the pandemic, and I realized the software we used for those interviews could be the perfect tool for us to pull off shooting a short Indy film remotely. MimoLive by Boinx Software is a live streaming broadcast app with tons of great features that allow you to create multi-camera, live switched productions and to stream on virtually any platform. And even though we were not going to live switch or stream our show, it gave us the ability to all be “virtually” in the same room, and for me to handle recording each of the individual “cameras”. All I had to do was set up the show on MimoLive and send out links to each of the actors and the Director, who all then connected via their cell phones or laptop computers. I then had 5 streams of live video which I could record individually in 1080p HD.

The Singletons movie poster

The Singletons is the story of one family on the day they find out about the stay-at-home order due to the pandemic. It was written and directed by Hilari Scarl and the name Singletons comes from the idea that the whole film would be shot in singles (with the exception of the Mom and Dad who were played by real life husband and wife Michael Butler Murray and Alice Kirwan Murray). We used one session in MimoLive to hold rehearsals with the full cast allowing them to interact with each other and get notes from the director, and then to find the right locations and camera angles we would use to shoot the project. Originally we planned to shoot the project with all of the actors at the same time, but for timing (one of the actors lives in Hawaii while the rest are all in Southern California) and lighting issues we scheduled to shoot each actor individually.

The finished film is just over 5 minutes running time. We had an initial cast and crew plus invited guests screening on Facebook July 15, and the film has been chosen to screen at this years’ Burbank International Film Festival.

Roll Credits

  • Writer and Director – Hilari Scarl
  • Director of Photography and Editor – Jeff Gatesman
  • Composer – DeAndre Allen Toole
  • Colorist – Brian Hutchings
  • Dad – Michael Murray
  • Mom – Alice Kirwan Murray
  • Steve – Benjamin McFadden
  • Beth – Hilary Barraford
  • Roger – Mark Beltzman

What I Did On My Covid Vacation

Water Drop Art by Jeff Gatesman
Water Drop Art by Jeff Gatesman ©

It’s been more than a few weeks since we’ve all been thrown into an unprecedented new way of life and for those of us in the production/entertainment industry, our re-entry back into a working world is still being debated and planned, and likely a few weeks, if not months away yet. And since the shutdown we’ve had to get used to new and different things; a lot of you have had to immediately learn how to home school your kids, and we’ve all had to navigate the quagmire of what is considered essential and what is not, of shopping in near empty markets, and of socializing via Skype, Zoom and FaceTime.

Have you resorted to cutting your own hair yet? How about baking your first loaf of bread? After my first sour dough loaf I realized that I very rarely eat bread anymore, I was just caught up in a swell of what-to-do-with-myself uncertainties. And I’m sure that some of you, like me, have labored over finding the best chiaroscuro lighting for those virtual Zoom drink-a-thons with your pals. I mean, it’s what we do, we might as well represent!

So what now?

I’ve seen the blog posts were people have been exploring their yards and parts of their own homes to discover a new love of macro photography, or to gain skills in lighting for food photography, I myself have been playing around with effects photography which is a lot of fun but I’m a motion picture guy so it is not what I had been making a living at, and is probably not likely to become a primary source of income once the stages and studios begin rumbling back into production, but it keeps me exercising muscles I do use in my regular work. What you do is up to you but if you get inspired to share the work you create to the world, Adobe Behance is a great online portfolio that comes with your Adobe subscription, and if you are taking still photos On1 is having weekly photo contests on their blog where you could win Amazon gift cards, software bundles, and creative assets.

Milk Drop photography
Milk Drop Art by Jeff Gatesman

Production tends to be a very time consuming vocation, and as many of us know, when we are not actually working on a production, our time is spent looking for our next gig, which means that other things tend to get neglected. I am reminded of an old Twilight Zone episode about a man who loved nothing more than to read, however the realities of life in a busy world leave him no time for his passion until, through a twist of fate he finds himself the soul survivor of a nuclear holocaust. At first he despairs at being all alone in the world, but then he finds the ruins of a library with volumes of the greatest books ever written, still intact. He rejoices at his great fortune of finding the tomes and having all the time to read now, but as he reaches down to pickup a book, his glasses slide off his face and smash on the concrete leaving him with such terrible hyperopia that he cannot focus the words on the page. He finally had the time to read but cruel fate wouldn’t let him.

We currently have no excuse now so it may be the perfect time to tend to some of those neglected tasks. One thing I’ve been putting off for years has been to cultivate a stream of passive income through stock footage, so during this time I have also been digging through my archive hard drives for both throwback photos and unedited video that has been languishing, waiting for me to have time to tend to them. Part of this procedure is to spend some time investing in my keywording skills as this is almost as important as having relevant, professional looking footage. Linked In Learning (formerly Lynda dot com) has an excellent tutorial on keywording and if you are not signed up for Linked In Learning, I would suggest you look into it. If you are a member of a Guild or IATSE local the subscription is free.

Another thing I am doing that not only helps develop my skill set, but also gets me up off my office chair and away from the computer screen, is that I set up tracking shots I can use to practice with my gimbal. It’s always a good idea to practice camera operating when you can whether you are using a fluid, geared or remote head, or some kind of stabilizing rig like a gimbal or steadicam. What I’ve done is set up complex camera moves to perform throughout my house and yard that help develop my killer camera moves as well as my ability to visualize and create dynamic shots. You can find Youtube tutorials on everything concerning camera movement, best practices on walking with a gimbal, as well as balancing and setting it up for best performance, whether you are a Ronin, Steadicam or Movi owner.

I want to also pass on a spreadsheet that has been compiled by the IATSE’s Education Department which lists hundreds of free training resources for people in almost any skill from lighting, sound and video to networking, show control, safety and even knots.

ASton Martin V12 Vantage model
Model of an Aston Martin V12 Vantage I shot in my living room.

So you’ve done your craft project, tended to some unfinished business and polished up some of those rusty skills, I guess it’s time to kick the feet up and watch something on Netflix. As Production people naturally we watch shows: we watch movies and documentaries and we binge on our favorite series. That’s cool. Studies show that watching something you enjoy releases the feel-good chemical dopamine and that’s great. It can soothe our day-to-day worries and bring us out of our own thoughts when we are down, and who among us doesn’t need that from time to time? If you are like me and appreciate truly well crafted films, there are a couple of great alternatives to the main streamers that you should know about, so if you enjoy classics and films that may not have made it out of the arthouse circuit, check out both Mubi and The Criterion Channel.

And what about the future?

As I mentioned earlier, under normal circumstance when we have free time we are generally working on getting our next gig, but now time has been forced upon us and we can, and still should keep in touch with our network. Shaking that tree right now won’t bear us any fruit in the near future, but sometimes it’s just nice to hear from a colleague. Who knows, maybe they have a great sourdough recipe for you.

One final thought I’d like to share: now might be a great time for the creative community to be it’s most creative in ways we haven’t been before: maybe now is the time to envision what our industry looks like in 6 months, a year, or 2 years down the road. Maybe we can be the influence our industry needs right now… What are you doing with your time? What is your vision for the future of Production? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be well.

71 South Wacker

Rocket 88 Studios produced, shot, and did the post-production on this project for Otherwise, Incorporated. We created the motion graphics and directed the original music score by Daniel Teo.

  • Director of Photography: Jeff Gatesman
  • Producer: Judith Gatesman
  • Creative Director for Otherwise: David Frej
  • Original Music by Daniel Teo
  • Color by Digital by Design

2015 Bronze Telly Award Win for Rocket 88 Studios

telly_site_bugs_bronzeWe at Rocket 88 Studios are proud to announce that our PSA, Because, for the Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness (GLAD) has been honored with a Bronze Telly Award!

Founded in 1979, the Telly Awards is the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, and web commercials, videos and films. The Telly Awards annually showcases the best work of the most respected advertising agencies, production companies, television stations, cable operators, and corporate video departments in the world. The Telly Awards is a widely known and highly respected national and international competition and receives over 12,000 entries annually from all 50 states and many foreign countries.

Because is a PSA compelling deaf women to get an HIV test. By listing some of the reasons for getting an HIV test, we try to impart that reasons can be varied, and the test is simple. The PSA was written and directed by award-winning Director Hilari Scarl and shot by Jeff Gatesman

Director/Co-Producer – Hilari Scarl – Worldplay, Inc.
Cinematographer/Graphics/Editor and Co-Producer – Jeff Gatesman
Music – Kubilay Uner
Sound Design – Joe Milner/Puget Sound
ASL Consultants: Robert DeMayo, Lisa Hermatz
Executive Producer: Patty Hughes
Producer: Heidi Booth
Special Thanks: Maisha Franklin, Jennifer Chi
Produced by Worldplay, Inc.and Rocket 88 Studios
Cast (in order of appearance):
Natasha Ofili, Maria Correa, Karla Gutierrez, Christine Visser, Lisa Hermatz, Ashley Fiolek

Johnny Rocket Screening Schedule

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space has been selected for the 2009 Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival which takes place September 10th through the 13th.

Chicago International REEL Shorts Fest posterOur film will officially screen at the festival on Sunday, September 13 at 2:00pm at the Film Row Cinema at Columbia College, 1104 S. Wabash – top floor. We are pleased to announce that our film has also been chosen to screen at the Festival Preview, Thursday, September 10 at 8pm, at Mothers Nightclub, 26 W. Division St, Chicago.

The preview is a 21 and over event, but the Sunday screening is for kids as well as adults, and we are hoping to see as many of you there as can make it. There will be an audience choice award given to the film with the most votes. And in good conscience, I couldn’t say I had Chicago roots if I didn’t ask you to vote early and vote often!

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space is a short (2:45) High Definition film that was written and directed by Jeff Gatesman, and produced by Judith Gatesman. The film, which is a multi-media project incorporating High Definition live action video, 3-D modeling and animation and stop-motion photography, tells the story of a young boy playing

Johnny Rocket in his spaceship

Johnny in his rocket

in his father’s garage who, through nothing but his imagination, transports himself into other worlds; worlds where he is an adventurer, fireman, strongest man in the world, and finally, in a spaceship made entirely of artifacts from his garage, a space explorer. The film was shot on location in Santa Barbara with all the post production, modeling and animation done at Rocket 88 Studios in Culver City, CA.

As a personal note, it is very exciting to have this screening in Chicago, the place where this whole filmmaking adventure started for me, and I look forward to seeing you there. There is a $5 ticket price for the preview party at Mothers, $7 for the festival screening on Sunday, and kids under 16 are admitted free.

Johnny Rocket to screen in Chicago Film Festival

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space has been selected for the 2009 Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival which takes place September 10th through the 13th.

Chicago International REEL Shorts Fest posterThe Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival seeks to provide opportunity for filmmakers from around the world to showcase their work in the Chicagoland area. We at Rocket 88 Studios are proud and honored that our little promo film has been chosen to be part of the 2009 schedule.

We have just been notified of our inclusion into the festival, though the schedule has not yet been announced. Anyone in Chicago, or planning to be in Chicago during that weekend, please make tentative plans to come see our film and help support independent film making.

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space is a short (2:45) High Definition promo film that was conceived, written and directed by Jeff Gatesman, and produced by Judith Gatesman, with cinematography by Pedja Radenkovic and original musical score by Keith Waggoner and Josh Caldwell.

The film, which is a multi-media project incorporating High Definition live action video, 3-D modeling and animation and stop-motion photography, tells the story of a young boy playing in his father’s garage and using his own imagination to transport himself into other worlds; worlds where he is an adventurer, fireman, strongest man in the world, and finally, in a spaceship made entirely of artifacts from his garage, a space explorer. The film was shot on location in Santa Barbara with all the post production, modeling and animation being done at Rocket 88 Studios in Culver City, CA.

The film stars Alexander Scholz as Johnny Rocket and Sam Whitehead as his father.

Johnny Rocket in his spaceship
Johnny in his rocket

Though we don’t know the screening schedule yet, I can tell you for certain that the festival kicks off on Thursday, Sept 10th with a preview and party at Original Mother’s at 26 W Division St. at 8pm. We will be there, so please come celebrate with us.

Our film will screen at the Film Row Cinema at Columbia College which is at 1104 S. Wabash.

Schedule information will be posted as soon as it is released.

Johnny Rocket gets new soundtrack, titles

Today I received a new soundtrack and mix for the film Johnny Rocket in Garage Space and I am thrilled with it. My original concept was to use an old song called Rocket 88, but was never able to obtain the rights to the song, so I contacted the talented composer Keith Waggoner of Grey Coals Music For Film. Keith and his partner Josh Caldwell created a soundtrack that compliments the video perfectly.

I think it is exciting to work with musicians because it helps me to be a better storyteller by trying to communicate with an artist who works in another medium. It is easy for me to communicate visually, but I recognize that sometimes when a person works in a sonic medium, the ideas don’t always translate. Working with Keith was effortless and I think the soundtrack matches the aesthetic of the film nicely.

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space – new HD promo

I have finally finished the showcase piece we produced. It’s all of 2 minutes long and consists of DVC PRO HD720p60 high def production using P2 workflow, post production in Final Cut, After Effects and Sound Studio Pro with graphics created in Photoshop and Maya. Much was learned about using Maya on a mac–does not necessarily play nice.

Johnny Rocket in Garage Space
Johnny Rocket in Garage Space

But first the concept: Come up with a promo piece that showcases all that we can do at Rocket 88 Studios, but focus beyond just capabilities and use some imagination to create a coherent story-line. The solution was the story of a young boy playing in his father’s garage and using his own imagination to transport himself into other worlds; worlds where he is an adventurer, fireman, strongest man in the world and finally, in a spaceship made entirely of artifacts from his garage, a space explorer.

We also decided we would have to use an actual Oldsmobile Rocket 88 from the 50’s as the hood ornament would ultimately play an important role in the catalyst for the child actor just as it has in the development of our studios branding. The search was on to find the perfect car. Unfortunately most of the Rocket 88 cars in southern California are either white or black which would prove to be terrible for shooting. Finally our Producer found the perfect car in Santa Barbara and we packed up all the kids and props and gear and headed north.

Mise en scene

Art direction plays a huge role in the film as everything in the frame has a role in the imaginative worlds our hero explores. Almost everything on the shelves has a role in outer space, from the globe and workout balls and china lantern planets, to moon rocks, asteroids made of sponges and a 2-stage rocket animated from a thermos. Also the wall of posters on the garage make up the backdrop of outer space. Once we had the scripted live action parts shot, we spent a bit more time shooting our hero on a green screen for insertion into his, as-yet non existent rocket. That’s when all the magic really started.

Post Production

Cutting the live action was pretty straight forward. I chose to use a slightly more difficult-to-make transition for the first few cuts as I decided the look you get when tradition film rolls out would be better than a simple dip to color or white flash transition. This was created in After Effects and uses adjustment layers with fast blur and levels (respect to Aharon Rabinowitz at Creative Cow for help on this).

Once the live action was cut there was a huge hole left to be filled by animation. To start this process we basically laid out all of the props from the garage scene and began trying to make them look like they belonged in space. Most everything was shot against a green screen using a digital still camera and composed together in After Effects as JPEG sequences. We shot almost everything in a traditional stop motion animation style: take a shot; move things around slightly; take another shot. This worked great until we got to the blue rocks that were meant to make up the ring of asteroids around the the china ball planet. I started by laying the rocks out on a sheet of plexi suspended over a green screen, but it soon became apparent that moving each individual rock was going to be a horrendous nightmare that would consume huge amounts of time and would probably never look natural, so I realized another solution had to found. That’s when I thought about hockey.

When I was a kid we had a hockey game where the tiny players moved around the “ice” which was really just a thin piece of tin. You line the guys up, turn on the game and a little motor would vibrate the tin playing field with a relatively high frequency. I figured I should give this a try and got out my Groomsmen personal facial hair trimmer. With the trimmer turned on, I would take a shot of the rocks, gently touch the center of the plexi with the trimmer which would cause a vibration strong enough the jiggle the rocks around a bit, then take another frame. I continued this until I had enough frames to create the length animation I needed.

The nice thing about using the vibration method, even though the rocks did not neccessarily move where you wanted them to go, they did move in a natural way, as though one force was motivating them.

On The Lot with Hilari Scarl

The challenge was to make a very short film (less than a minute) in a day. The prize was a spot on the upcoming reality show sponsored by Steven Spielberg called On The Lot. The Director with the vision was Hilari Scarl. Rocket 88 Studios shot and edited the project, and Hilari got onto the show. She didn’t win the million dollar prize but, we think this short is very funny and we’re very proud of her none-the-less.