Spiffy Gear Spekular Kit Review

I recently received a Spekular Star Kit from Spiffy Gear. I put it together to see what it was all about. I was very excited to get it out of the box and try it. Before I tell you about my experience, let me go through some of the technical specifications.

My order came with two Spekular core lighting kits. Each of those includes 4 light bars. Each light bar has 14.5 Watts of bright light, for a total of 58 Watts. The color temperature is rated at 5400K daylight-balanced light. The light is gorgeous and perfect for photography and videography work. The kits can be put together in a number of different ways including a ring, panel, strip and a few other shapes. The light panels dim and there is no flicker.

From my experience, everything is as advertised. I noticed there are a few adapters that can be used to combine two core kits or run them off of battery power. They don’t come with stands so if you already have a c-stand then that’s perfect or you can find a few recommended mounting options from Spiffy Gear’s website. The thing I would like to say is I was so enamored by these lights because they are unlike anything I have ever seen. They are very bright when the dial is turned up. So if you’re looking for a very versatile and compact lighting kit, set to daylight balanced light, this really is the perfect lighting kit. If you’re a cinematographer out looking to add a few lights to the gear you already own, then this would be a great addition.

My experience using these lights is they are compact, very well made and also very bright. I would make sure I had the stands I wanted to use when purchasing this kit and look forward to making some really cool images.

Why I Appreciate All Films, Not Just the Good Ones

I appreciate all films I see. I don’t think they are all good or enjoyable to watch, but I appreciate every last one. The reason why is because I know firsthand, as all filmmakers do, how difficult it is to make one.

It’s hard because most notable films cost a significant amount of money to make, that’s first. So when a filmmaker ventures off to make an ultra-low budget film, they’re really saying to the world and everybody else, “Hey, I’m living my life regardless of how much you think this project, or I am worth.” Most of the time those films are small stepping stones and learning experiences to move toward what all filmmakers strive to become. They strive to make something that is both good and also seen by a large audience. In the process of making films on a shoe string budget or working on someone else’s low budget projects, it becomes apparent why films cost so much money. The cast and crew are so valuable, and they have to be paid and usually paid a lot. Then there are the locations, the equipment, all the pre-production and post-production costs, distribution costs and so many other expenses. I really appreciate all films because so many filmmakers are out there trying to make it and many of them never will, or at least not in the way they envisioned. That’s just sort of how life works, not just with making a film, but in every career where a lot of people are trying to make it.

I appreciate every film because of how hard it is to make a good film. Plus I prefer to be an encourager, rather than the pompous bitter failure that we all have met, maybe you even happen to be that person. So it’s about more than just how hard it is to make a film financially speaking. You can get all the money in the world and it’s still hard to make a good film. It’s hard to make half a good film, or even just one good scene in an entire movie. Was there even one good scene in the script to begin with? Did they accidently cast actors so unnatural all the audience could think about is how bad they were? Was the director able to put the scenes and sequences together so the audience really felt what the story was conveying? That happens both while shooting the film and also in post-production. It’s hard to do any of these things right and they really all have to be done right, plus a few more other things, for a movie to be considered ‘good.’ So when we go to the theaters and see a movie that a studio spent $300 million to make and it’s hard to stay in your seat 15 minutes into it, it’s so obvious why filmmaking is an art and not just a business.

That’s why I appreciate every film I see. From the 3-minute shorts my filmmaking acquaintances have sent me where they used onboard audio and literally no set design, to the box office disasters where enough money to fund a developing countries whole economy for an entire year was spent. It’s just so hard to do and I appreciate the process just as much as I do the greatest films of all time.

Why Smallville Was More Than a TV Series

Does anybody like Superman? I do and one of my favorite TV series is Smallville. I still watch it pretty often. Smallville has one of the most loyal fanbases I have ever encountered and I’m also a part of that fanbase. I can’t remember exactly when I first caught an episode of Smallville on TV, but it was probably around 2003 when I was 9 years old.

Smallville is a coming of age story about Clark Kent trying to make it through high school and eventually become Superman. You only need to watch the first few episodes of season 1 before you begin to realize what makes Smallville, well, Smallville.

It appeals to kids and young adults who didn’t have, or remember not having, the best interpersonal skills at a time when it mattered. It also appeals to viewers who were abused as kids. Whether the abuse was physical, sexual or emotional isn’t that important. But it is important to say that child abuse impairs a person’s ability to have normal relationships. What Clark Kent, played by Tom Welling, represents in Smallville is someone that is completely relatable to kids and former kids who couldn’t develop normal relationships, while being everything they wanted to be.

For instance, in one of the episodes, Clark is accused by someone interested in dating both Lana Lang and Chloe Sullivan (both of whom Clark was interested in romantically), as sending off so many mixed signals he could scramble a radar. And that’s actually true in some ways if you watch the show. The dynamic part of who Clark Kent is in Smallville is he can’t seem to get relationships right a lot of the time, but he does get them right some of the time. However, the character is played by one of the best-looking alpha male actors to ever be on TV, who also happens to have superpowers. When you add those dynamics, people who were abused look at that character and say, “Wow, he struggles with everything I struggle with in dealing with people and having relationships, but he has superpowers and look: Lana Lang actually wants to be with him.” Then that gives them hope because the show fills a void that they either can’t fill in life currently or couldn’t at a time when it really mattered.

Smallville was one of the most popular shows when it first came out. It averaged an audience of around 7 million viewers per episode for the first two seasons, which aired from 2001 to 2003. In case you are unfamiliar with television viewership stats, those numbers are extremely good. The real reason why the show was so important is that of what I just outlined. It gave viewers help with some of their own problems, a help that is very rare to find. No, it’s not the same as going to see a therapist if you really were abused, but it was a great show that gave it’s viewers hope. Hope that they weren’t alone, hope that they could find a way to be like Clark Kent and finally go on a date with Lana Lang, and hope that having a good moral character in spite of being kicked around by life actually could make them stronger, not weaker.

How Personal Beliefs Influence Filmmakers

What do you believe? Why do you believe it? Are you an artist? Chances are what you personally believe has a huge influence on what kind of artist you are and ultimately what kind of person you are. How do you feel about morality? What value system do you use to make decisions every day? What’s important to you?

There are just over 326 million people who live in the United States. There are over 7.6 billion people in the world total. About 360,000 people are born each day, 151,000 who die every day. The average lifespan is about 79 years. One thing every person alive can honestly say is: whatever we decide to believe, we don’t have much time to figure it out.

One of the most important ways a person can express their value system is through their worldview or religion. Recently Pew Research published their updated study on religious demographics in the United States. In the US, 38.6 percent of the population identifies as either unaffiliated or nothing in particular. Non-Christians account for 5.9 percent of the population and 70.6 percent identify as Christians. Different religions and worldviews can yield very different results sometimes and that’s something to think about!

The other way people express what they believe is in terms of ethics and morals with their everyday decision making. If someone says they’re a Christian, but they don’t take into consideration others around them, then they probably don’t represent that value system very well. Just as importantly, the decisions others make can tell you about that person’s value system that they have developed and integrated into their life since they were very young.

Do you think about issues of right and wrong? Global issues relating to other human beings? Why does half the world population live on less than $2.50 a day? Why does the bottom 80 percent of American households have an annual income of $34,000 while the top 1 percent has an annual income of $1,300,000? Does the word greed come to your mind? What does that word mean to you? Have you ever met someone who was very greedy? The answers to these questions and many just like them are all things that make up what a person believes. They absolutely impact what kind of films they make or what type of screenplays they write.

Why is this important? To be thoughtful whenever writing a screenplay or making a film. To think more about why the world is the way it is and what you can do about it. If you think you can do something about it by making a film, why?

In my own life, I can tell you I have a lot to learn, but also a lot to deal with. I’m not alright with income inequality. I’m not alright with poverty. I’m not alright with murder and violent crimes. I’m not alright with war. I’m not alright with seeing so many people on a day to day basis treat each other poorly because they thought so highly of themselves they didn’t even consider anyone else. I’m not alright with a lot of things. The question is: what do you do about it?

So if you’re a filmmaker you probably think about these things too. Sometimes what we believe is wrong and hurtful to others. Sometimes what we believe is the truth and aims to help our audience and others become more aware. Some of the greatest films and TV shows ever made did just that.

What Kind of Camera Is Used for That Cinematic Look?

Are you looking for that cinematic look and are intuitive enough to know recording something on an iPhone or prosumer camera won’t get the job done? I started asking myself the same questions whenever I made my first short film. It seemed like many filmmakers I talked to didn’t know how to answer my question or thought it wasn’t a good question, to begin with.

Cinematic looks are achieved with a certain type of camera and lens, but there are more factors that go into that look seen in the movies. Lighting, composition, locations and post-production work such as color correction and color grading all get these films to their final form.

The answer to what kind of cameras are used is pretty simple. What’s seen in Hollywood films, whenever digital cinema cameras are used, are shot mostly on a camera by the brand name Arri. Arri has a few different models that are popular. The ones that aren’t shot using an Arri are shot on a Red. If it’s not either of those then it may have been a less popular digital cinema camera or shot on actual film. There are different types of camera sensors too. A full frame sensor such as whats found on a Red or Arri, Super 35mm such as a Canon C100 sensor or APS-C for less expensive DSLR cameras. Then there is the resolution which is somewhere between 8K and 4K for most new cinema cameras out today and then there is always the older format HD, also found on a Canon C100. Also whenever considering the resolution, think about codecs, which is the file format the video files are recorded to. RAW gives the colorist the best files to work with in post. It’s the least compressed file and takes up a lot of memory. Then there are more compressed formats that take up less storage but have their limits in post-production.

Cinema cameras come with a mount to attach different types of lenses. There are different types of lens mounts and PL is popular on higher-end cameras, anything over about $30,000 but they can be found on many types of cinema cameras. Then there are different lenses and they can either be made for photography or cinema cameras. The lenses made for cinema are almost always more expensive. Different brands and makes of lenses give different looks. That’s where a valuable cinematographer can come in handy. They work on a lot of different projects and for the most part, know what looks like what and can help select a camera and lenses right for the project. Lenses can either be a zoom or a prime lens. A prime lens has a fixed focal length and gives a certain shot size at a certain distance, among other characteristics. The baseline focal length is called a normal lens and that’s at 50mm. Below that, such as a 35mm lens, is called a wide-angle lens. Above that is called a telephoto lens and that could be something like a 75mm or larger.

B&H Photo has a great website for exploring different types of cameras and lenses. Go check out what they have to offer and sort through price and brands. It’s fun to see what’s out there!

Top 10 Film Directors of All Time

Who are your top 10 film directors of all time? Filmmaking is all about telling a story and each person on this list was an all-time great screenwriter or an all-time great at selecting really good screenplays to work with.

Alfred Hitchcock

Whenever a filmmaker makes such a large number of great films, you have to start considering them as one of the all-time greats. That’s exactly what Alfred Hitchcock did. I’ve never seen a Hitchcock film I didn’t really enjoy watching. The films he made that ended up being nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director are Psycho (1960), Rear Window (1954), Spellbound (1945), Lifeboat (1944) and Rebecca (1940). However many of his greatest films weren’t nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Films such as North by Northwest (1959), Vertigo (1958), Dial M for Murder (1954) and Rope (1948) ‘North by Northwest’ is one of the great films of all time. The biggest component of a great film is always the screenplay and the story that it tells, however the mark of a great director is their ability to select a great screenplay to direct. Alfred Hitchcock did that many times over and ‘North by Northwest’ is a perfect example of that. Ernest Lehman wrote the screenplay for that film and it was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Academy Award in 1960.

John Ford

John Ford officially has won more Oscars as Best Director than any other person. If you don’t think he belongs on this list, look no further than his classic film ‘The Searchers’ from 1956. He was paired with one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, the three-time Academy Award winner Winton C. Hoch. This film is the epitome of telling a story visually and everyone should go watch it for no other reason than to see what John Ford and Winton C. Hoch made. Many of the films that made John Ford famous were all westerns, however, he made many more other kinds of films other than just westerns. The ones he either won or was nominated to an Academy Award for Best Director are The Quiet Man (1952), How Green Was My Valley (1941), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), Stagecoach (1939) and The Informer (1935). John Ford is one of the most talented and well-rounded directors we’ve ever seen. I suppose because his last film was released in 1966, we don’t give him enough credit whenever talking about the Steven Spielberg’s or Martin Scorsese’s of modern day. I promise if you watch his films, you will see why he deserves to be on this list.

Elia Kazan

If you’ve ever watched a film directed by Elia Kazan, then Marlon Brando probably comes to your mind. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952) and On the Waterfront (1954) are the three films they collaborated on. Brando had a reputation as being difficult to work with on set and most of the time he didn’t like or respect the director he was working with. That wasn’t the case with Elia Kazan and he makes note of that in his autobiography ‘Brando: Songs My Mother Taught Me.’ Brando is arguably the greatest film actor we’ve ever seen and his opinion about Kazan matters a lot. However, even without Brando’s love of Kazan, we still have his films to look at and watch. On the Waterfront is one of the great films ever made and Kazan is probably the main driving force behind that. Yes the screenplay was outstanding and the cast, including Eva Marie Saint, was great, but the film taken as a whole was created by Elia Kazan and his vision. If that isn’t enough for you, he also made some other films such as Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), East of Eden (1955) and America America (1963), totaling 7 Academy Award nominations and 2 wins over 16 years.

Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder has a long list of achievements. He may have been even more talented as a screenwriter than as a director, but that doesn’t stop him from making a spot on this list. He came to the United States from Germany whenever Hitler came to power. Over years from 1940 to 1967 Billy Wilder was nominated to 21 Academy Awards and won 6 of them. His film ‘The Apartment’ from 1960 won him three of those Oscars for Best Screenplay, Best Picture, and Best Director. Billy Wilder did many things with ‘The Apartment.’ There were dynamics of sexism and commentary on the problems with capitalism. He included a cast of unique, impressive and memorable characters. In every line of dialogue, there was wit, humor, thoughtfulness, and realism. Most importantly, Billy Wilder’s ability to skillfully and seamlessly build this motion picture scene by scene into a masterpiece people are still talking about today, is incredible. He made other films too, and those combined with ‘The Apartment’ warrant him making the list.

Martin Scorsese

Whenever ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ first came, I went and watch it at the theaters 3 separate times. I’ve also watched ‘The Departed’ a few too many times. Those are his two best films. A lot of people are big fans of ‘Raging Bull’ and while I think ‘The Departed’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ are much better films, ‘Raging Bull’ will always be considered one of the all-time great films. He made a lot of other good films including The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Goodfellas (1990), The Age of Innocence (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), The Aviator (2004) and Hugo (2011), among others. It’s sort of hard to compare him to the people ahead of him on this list because he is still going. He may one day rival Alfred Hitchcock.

Francis Ford Coppola

I suppose all I really need to say here is ‘The Godfather.’ I’m a big fan of Gene Hackman and one of his best performances was in a film released back in 1974 called ‘The Conversation,’ written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. It’s another great film that will keep your attention and leave you feeling something after watching it. I suppose to just run down the list of what he’s made over the years, Patton (1970), The Godfather (1972), American Graffiti (1973), The Conversation (1974), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979) and The Godfather: Part III (1990). It’s worth noting that Francis Ford Coppola was probably an even better screenwriter than director. However, as I pointed out in my review of Alfred Hitchcock, being a good director means picking the write screenplay and story at the onset. Whether the screenplay is written by the director or not, it says a lot about their ability as a director whenever they work with way above average screenplays.

Steven Spielberg

Everything Steven Spielberg does is great. Look at the short list of all the films he’s done. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Color Purple (1985), Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998), Munich (2005), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Lincoln (2012), Bridge of Spies (2015) and The Post (2017).

Quentin Tarantino

If I had to pick one film to play on repeat in my living room, it would be Pulp Fiction. Possibly the greatest film ever made. Tarantino’s ability as a storyteller is really as good as it gets. I don’t want to shortchange him as a director, because he’s certainly one of the best, but he may be the best screenwriter I’ve had the chance to study and analyze. Go watch his films.

Stanley Kubrick

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and Full Metal Jacket.

David Lynch

Mulholland Drive, Blue Velvet, and The Elephant Man are all great films.

How to Get Along on the Set of a Low Budget Short Film

Have you ever wanted to make your first film, but worried it might cost too much? Making a low-budget short film may be the best use of your time. However, there are a few things you should be aware of before.

A Quick Lesson on Interpersonal Relations on a Film Set

Young filmmakers can be pretentious. Many of them try to impress others by affecting greater importance or talent than they actually possess. This can be a problem on a film set because the cast and crew need to get along to solve problems, and whenever crew members act arrogant around each other, it makes that nearly impossible.

Part of what acting arrogant is all about is when a person makes themselves out to be more important they are, while simultaneously pretending like others are less important than they really are. I’ve seen this on all the low-budget short film sets I’ve been on, and even on projects with larger budgets and a more experienced crew. It’s a toxic way to act anytime and anywhere, but especially on a low-budget short. In this environment, you’re doing something really hard, which is trying to shoot a film, with a bunch of people who are not super experienced. If they were super experienced, they wouldn’t be working for cheap or, in many cases, for free.

The best way to get along on a film set is to select the least arrogant people you can find. Shockingly, those people usually are the ones who are the highest paid and have the most experience so they might not make it on your low-budget short. However, still try to find constructive and humble people to surround you on a film set and do an inordinate amount of pre-production planning. That pre-production planning will hopefully give you fewer problems on set and that makes the whole process easier, regardless if you do or do not end up with a few pretentious apples in your crew.