ERYS builds on the world that Jaden created with his first album SYRE but with a bad boy twist. The sad lonely boy that was SYRE is gone and is replaced with ERYS in a vacant and desolate Los Angeles.
Earth Mother, Sky Father
The Congo: 2030. Welcome to this new and mind-bending sci-fi future where the Central African nation is no longer shipping its unrefined rare earth minerals out to sea, but is keeping its wealth for itself—buried deep within the ground. This is Africa's future through dance—a ceremony for the God of Rare Earth.
Earth Mother, Sky Father 2030 was shot in the blistering heat of the summer of 2018. This project was developed over the course of a year as director Kordae Henry's master's thesis project at Sci-Arc. I have always gravitated towards projects with technical challenges so this was right up my alley as Kordae and I began our initial conversations and I learned more about his vision. I had the great fortune of working with the acclaimed street dancer Storyboard P who plays the character of the "excavation programmer", the only human left behind to work among the machines. To round out the whole project we had Shabazz Palaces' experimental hip-hop tracks "Sonic MythMap for the Trip Back" and "Late night phone calls" as the score.
Eagle Mountain was a great location for this project due to its desolate qualities but our shooting time was greatly reduced due to concerns over the intense heat. It didn't help that Storyboard P's character required his entire upper body to be painted black. During our conversations in preproduction Kordae and I talked about the different VFX elements that would be added in post and he also shared 3D renders of the VFX machine's movements so I could have a better idea of what the final would look like. Despite all of the planning and various location scouts we had this shoot ended up being highly improvisational for me forcing me to think quickly on my feet as to where to put the camera knowing we had limited takes. Armed with my set of Xenon primes and a Canon 70-200mm I went to work. My favorite scene from this project is definitely the beautiful blue hour scene where Storyboard dances with the chain mask. His eerie staccato movements, the swinging chains, and the VFX machine in the background...all in slow-motion.
Set during the Civil Rights Movement, Counter tells the story of Bayard Rustin, an African American man who walks into a ‘whites only’ small town diner and challenges a waitress to serve him at a price she can’t refuse. This film was shot as a part of Film Independent’s Project Involve Artist Development program with the support of the National Black Programming Consortium.
The biggest challenge I faced with this project was creating a mood of suspense and tension while shooting nearly the entire story in a single room; I needed to find a way to change the room’s mood over time. The diner begins with the feeling of the sweltering heat of the summer outside and I intentionally let the windows blow out a bit. When the waitress needs to hide the fact that she has a black man in her restaurant she closes the blinds creating a more sinister environment. Director Nick Bouier and I spoke about modeling the racist confrontations after old western films like The Good The Bad and the Ugly. Through our use of the wide 2.39:1 aspect ratio and extreme closeups we were able to raise the tension in the climax of the film to a boiling point just like in a Mexican stand-off when everyone has their guns drawn. Finally, at the end the blinds are opened and light enters the diner signaling that everything is okay.
G-Star: Forces of Nature
Water, Earth, Eclipse – the highly anticipated Forces of Nature collection designed by Jaden Smith presents three colorways, each one symbolizing a powerful natural force. All pieces have been engineered with sustainable innovations and materials.
When I was tapped for this project I was really excited knowing that this project would have a wide reach with Jaden Smith involved combined with G-Star. When the Five Towers production team met with Jaden to discuss the project we were given a lot of free reign with the creative as long as we were able to incorporate nature into shots for this sustainable clothing line. As always we were pressed for time with Jaden and I remember him saying "I just want to be floating in the city...and in nature". With minimal direction we went to work.
We went through a handful of storyboards to lock in the creative then we ran into some scheduling challenges. Unfortunately we ended up having the shoot the spot in reverse order because we found out that Jaden wouldn't be available for the city portion of the shoot. Knowing this we broke the shoot in to three different segments: green screen, city, and nature.
The green screen portion was fairly straight forward but required some big pieces of equipment. Budget constraints made shooting on a stage out of the question so we used natural light to our advantage cutting the lighting budget to zero. T-Minus Stunts did their thing and we spent an afternoon shooting Jaden on wires and anything else we could think of seeing that we hadn't yet shot any of the primary footage.
Next up was the city shoot. This was a fun production design exercise where we transformed the DTLA Arts District into an urban cityscape that was being taken over by nature. On this day we had not 1 but 3 body doubles for Jaden to help sell the composite shots that we knew we would need to use. We even had a "levitation" rig built by Oliver Lukacs for the shot where we see Jaden's feet lift off the ground that consisted of a rope and pulley system that was clipped into a climbing harness.
Last but not least was the nature portion. The creative challenge for the team here was to find three unique nature locations to represent each of the color ways. We ultimately settled on the Mojave Desert for Earth, Toketee Falls in Oregon for Water, and the Lava Tubes in the Mojave National Preserve for Eclipse. The nature portion was a lot of fun since we were essentially a skeleton crew armed with a bunch of 5Ds and GH5 cameras on a camping trip.
Girlfriend was an interesting challenge for me. I was asked to create a digital representation of a secret lover who needed to be faceless and also have an androgynous appearance. This digital character represents Car Astor’s real-life struggles with past romantic partners. I initially considered an effect done entirely in post as a visual effect but I felt that if I was able to capture a live performance the end result would have a more organic and natural feel. I ultimately opted for motion capture using a Microsoft Kinect camera coupled with Brekel Pro Point Cloud v2. The Kinect camera works by projecting a grid of infrared light onto the scene and using an infrared camera to record the grid. The infrared image that is recorded is turned into depth data that Brekel Pro can parse into a cloud of points. The point cloud data is then exported as a Realflow BIN file and imported into Cinema 4D using the Realflow Particle Importer plugin. Once in Cinema 4D I attached a very small cube to each point of data to give myself a base for the digital particle look. The particles were rendered with an alpha channel for use in After Effects where I added a slight glow and an echo effect to thicken the particle person’s shape. From here the shot was handed back to editorial where it was composited into the final picture.
I had the great pleasure of working with director August Meleo who spearheaded Dreadspace, our AFI thesis film. Dreadspace tells the story of a lonely disabled grandfather who tries to connect with his neglected grandson and in the process exposes both the potential and the danger of virtual reality.
The story takes place in both the real world and also inside of a virtual reality video game. In order to create an immersive environment for the VR experience we took our own experiences with video games and decided to do something unconventional and shoot our film in both 24fps and 60fps. The video game portion was shot in 60fps to better emulate the hyper-real sensation of virtual reality and its association with video games. The real world portion was shot in 24fps. We learned that there currently isn’t a way to show a film that is in two frame rates so we were met with a creative challenge if we still wanted to pursue this look. After many tests and discussions on how to accomplish this we found that we were able to shoot 24fps footage and interpolate it in post to 60fps without frame blending. This process creates extra frames for our real world scenes but keeps the look of 24fps despite it being played back in 60fps. The end result is a film plays at 60fps while seamlessly jumping back and forth between a traditional film look of 24fps and the smooth motion of 60fps.
Same Difference was my second feature length film starring Essence Atkins who plays both the lead and supporting characters Tonya and Shawna. Tonya and Shawna are estranged twin sisters that have had a falling out but when Tonya starts having premonitions that she will die soon she decides to make amends despite their differences.
This was my fourth collaboration with director Derege Harding so we already had a working rapport established but we had a miserably tiny budget. Despite the budgetary constraints we were able to crank out this feature in 15 shooting days. The biggest challenge I had with this film was having to always work around makeup/wardrobe changes for Essence when she had to change between Tonya to Shawna and vice versa.
Same Difference had its world premiere at the 2019 American Black Film Festival in Miami.