Nutmeg Conversations: David Brown
David Brown is filmmaker and founder of DB Studios Multimedia, when he's not busy running the cameras at the Capitol Theatre he primarily works as a Camera Operator or Director Photography. He is also one of the producing geniuses behind the Heavy Drinking Podcast. In addition, Dave organizes Digital CONNtent Creators, a user group for production and post-production professionals across the Northeast who embrace the digital desktop media revolution.
Dave, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us!
How did you get your start in the production industry?
I started just filming me and my friends doing stupid shit. Growing up, we (my brothers and I) were huge fans of action sports and would always have a camera with us when we were riding motocross, snowboarding, skateboarding…whatever, and made little videos out of them; that carried over to our friends and incorporating whatever we were doing to kill time and hang out, lifestyle type stuff. Think CKY or Jackass, before Jackass.
From there, my little brother decided he wanted to go into film production to try and make action sports videos as a job; I kind of copied him at the ripe old age of 28 and decided I would enjoy that career path as well. He was lucky and went off to Full Sail down in Florida, I went to Gibbs College here in Norwalk, CT.
From there I made a few really good connections through two of my teachers, and once I graduated I began working freelance jobs, which I’ve been doing ever since.
You’ve worn different hats on various different productions – camera, DP, editor, creative – how do you approach each?
Well in this industry these days you have to be multi-faceted when you’re on set. Someone who knows and understands why a camera is framed a certain way and how that affects the lighting, blocking, editing and so forth, is much more valuable because they make a production run smother from start to finish, regardless if they are involved in those departments or not.
My passion has always been to run a camera or be Director of Photography. I hate editing (for the most part), but it’s a necessary evil as far as I’m concerned lol. Whether it’s because of the reason I stated before, or simply because there are many times, especially at the start of your career, where you are expected to be a one-man production company, you need to understand those jobs.
Camera Op and DP are very similar, but should be approached very differently. On most of the bigger, more well-funded productions your camera op will not be your DP. When I am operating a camera for someone, it is important for me to make sure I get what they see in their mind in my lens. I’ll make a suggestion here or there, but basically, I am there because they know I can listen, and follow instruction from the DP and Director to achieve their goals and just get my job done.
When I am DP, there’s a little more creative freedom, and you have to start thinking in terms of color, light, blocking…and working directly with the director to then translate what they see in their brain into a story board and then into the camera and on the screen. That’s where the real fun comes in. Playing with light and actually sculpting an image and seeing it come to life on the monitor is an awesome feeling, and it’s really fun when you get to be creative like that.
What is your go-to equipment to shoot on / edit on? Why?
This is an easy one! I’ll shoot on whatever the production is putting in my hands, haha. One of the most important things I learned in this field is anyone who boasts about the gear they are using without you asking and without showing you anything….knows nothing. It’s really easy to get caught up with industry buzz words and the latest and greatest gear, but if you know how to properly frame, light, and execute a scene….you can shoot it on your phone and it’ll pass for good work (as long as you have good audio, but that’s another story, lol).
That being said, I really love the Sony F series of cameras. The Sony F5 is probably one of my favorite cameras to shoot on. I love the image from the camera and they make the menus and settings extremely easy to use. Although when we shot I Am Shakespeare, I shot the main interview scenes with the AJA Cion which is an amazing machine and produces a gorgeous image straight out of the camera. It’s an overlooked unit, because AJA doesn’t do cameras and they never really promoted it the right way, but man when you use it, as long as you understand the way it’s color space works, it’s a great machine.
For editing I am all Adobe. Ever since Apple came out with that slap in the face they called Final Cut X, I jumped ship back to Premiere (which I started on) and never looked back. I do a lot of work in After Effects, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Audition as well, and the non-exporting, non-rendering round tripping of files between the programs makes it extremely easy.
You’re also the owner/operator of DB Studios Multimedia, what’s your production experience been like as small-production organization?
I’m not a producer and I will never pretend to be, haha. My productions under my company are few and far between, but generally tend to be smaller, one man band stuff, and some action sports videos, just to try and keep to my roots.
What do you like most/least about the production scene in CT?
The scene in CT is relatively small from the outside, but once you really get into it, you realize just how many professionals there actually are in the state, and most everyone is extremely helpful and really nice.
Then there are those that aren’t. I won’t name names obviously for the sake of this publication, but there are quite a few of what I consider to be “fake” people out there, and that’s the worst part of it all. These people will constantly expect free work from crews, no compensation, or simply have no idea what they are actually doing in this industry, and call themselves professionals. The good thing is that these people are easy to spot, and when you’re getting your start here in this state, there’s a lot of people to steer you in the right direction.
What is Digital CONNtent Creators and how did you come to resurrect it?
DCC is a local user group for film/tv/whatever production professionals. It was started by Keith Larsen as the Final Cut Pro User Group back in 2003. Since then the group changed names as the industry was evolving to the Digital CONNtent Creators to include more facets of production, before taking on a 4 year hiatus. After meeting with Keith and a couple industry professionals, I was handed the reigns to the user group in 2016, and have been working on relaunching and branding the group since. We are on schedule to do a few meetings this year with a full relaunch in 2019.
For more information on that you can go to www.digitalct.org and sign up for the newsletter, or jump on the social inter webs and find us at www.facebook.com/digitalconntent
The past year was big for you, first talk to us about I Am Shakespeare: The Henry Green Story and what it was like to work on that story?
Working on I Am Shakespeare was amazing, and I was thrilled to be a part of that team. I got to DP, Edit, and co-produce that feature length documentary alongside director Stephen Dest. Henry had such an amazing story, and told it so damn well, that it was extremely hard to edit. We filmed interviews with him for 4 days, the entire shoot schedule took something like 10 shooting days, including b-roll and what not. We spent the better part of a year just editing the story down because it was so difficult to cut anything that came out of his mouth!
Shooting it was a lot of fun too. We took a lot of chances with it. It’s very simple but very powerful. We basically decided to do one interview for the documentary, just Henry. Let him tell his full story. The interviews take place in 1 location, with 2 cameras, but he captivates you in a way that you don’t get bored looking at it. I also like to think my lighting played a part in tha… but I know better.
Anyone that hasn’t seen it...and I’m not saying this because I’m a little biased, find a screening and go see it. Henry’s story was so inspiring, and I’m lucky to have worked with him and Stephen on this film.
Second, you also helped launched the Heavy Drinking Podcast, talk a little about the genesis of that project, and why do you guys always sound like you’re having a blast?
HA! That’s just a shitshow, in the best way possible. Basically, it’s a weekly (for the most part) podcast that I produce with a few of my longtime friends. We review a new beer every show, talk about stupid stuff in the news, and basically just hang out like anyone would at a bar. We have special guests on from time to time, local brewers, bartenders, comedians…anyone that will tolerate us really. Occasionally we get out of the studio and go on location to events at breweries or bars and do shows from there… because everyone needs to get out once in a while!
It sounds like we are having a blast because what’s better than hanging out with your good friends, drinking good beer, and getting to talk to awesome guests?
What is/are the next project(s) on the horizon?
Nothing major in the works right now. I do have a project that I have been sitting on for a good 10 years or so that’s just waiting for the right opportunity to come together, but best not to jinx it and talk about it yet. I have been doing a lot of live webcasting of concerts from the Capitol Theatre, and we are looking to expand that market, but other than that, just keeping my head down and keeping things going with DCC, my freelance work, the podcast and my band.
What advice do you have for newbies joining the production industry?
DON’T DO IT!!!
Unless you really want to, then get into every production you can at any level. Make yourself stand out as a Production Assistant, or Camera Assistant, or whatever position you can, because people will notice that. Make connections, and work hard. This industry isn’t easy, and there are a lot of people who fake it out there and make it look like they know what they are doing, but won’t be working in a year or two.
Last but not least, when you walk on a set, leave your feelings at the door. Things get intense on some sets. Sometimes there are things that are done for safety, or for time constraints, or to get an actor to his Uber on time, but whatever the reason, everyone is trying to get their job done and has a lot of pressure on them, and you’ll get yelled at for a really stupid reason. But by the time you wrap for the day, no one is going to remember that (unless you really screw up, then you’ll leave immediately). Don’t take anything to heart, it takes a pretty tough skin to make it, but the people are really nice, I swear!