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California Cool, the Video

Posted on: Jun 14, 2012

Using video to tell stories…

Everyone likes a good story and people have been telling them to each other for probably as long as people had the ability to talk.  Modern technologies have just made the ancient art of story telling a little easier and certainly more accessible.  Film, video, and multimedia have given many of us the ability to tell stories that can shoot around the world in viral fashion informing, humoring, educating and entertaining us in ways we never imagined just a few short years ago.

As part of the commission to write and photograph the book: California Cool: Modernism Reborn, Images Publishing asked me to produce a short video about the book that he could use on his website and general marketing.  My goal in writing the book was to give architecture and architects a human face.  I had close to 25 contributors, all with different stories to tell.  Photographing architecture is one thing, but creating a video about it is quite a different task.  I knew what I wanted to do and had a general idea of format (thank you, Ken Burns) but I also knew I needed to collaborate with a videographer with the tools and experience to produce a professional level video. I turned to my friend and colleague, Eric Sahlin, a professional videographer and media producer who had recently left Adobe Systems.  Sahlin had produced a number of videos at Adobe that were embedded into the Adobe website.  They had the level of sophistication and polish that I was looking for.

Interview with Steven Ehrlich from video

A deal was struck, arrangements made and we were on our way.  I selected five architects to interview, mostly on the basis of their verbal abilities and comprehensive knowledge of the subject.  The plan was to mix interview footage with pans, tilts and zooms on existing stills and “B-roll” footage shot at various architectural offices and a few of their project sites.  Each of the interviews had some loose scripting, but my role as interviewer was to prompt the architect to talk about his role and his vision.  Other than the fact that one airline misplaced half our equipment for a day, the shooting went well and we returned to Oakland with five hours of footage that we were going to condense into five minutes.  Editing five hours of interviews actually took longer than the interviews themselves.  All of the “dead-air” and momentary pauses were cut out and a simple coherent statement was cobbled together from hours of verbal meandering.  Live interview footage was inter-mixed with shots of their work and workplaces. Eric found an upbeat soundtrack that he carefully laid underneath the dialog giving it an audio uniformity.

Architecture really does tell a story about society’s values and aspirations. In some ways, architects have an obligation to articulate that story.   Our video is one small attempt to do just that.

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