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Mark Schimmel, Director/Producer Finds the Sony FS100 the “Right Tool” for any Job

by Tom Di Nome 11/01/2013

From his start designing movie posters to ultimately making films of his own, Mark Schimmel has gained a unique perspective on the productionworld, from every aspect. He’s directed award-winning webisodes, short films, commercials, television shows, and videos, so he knows what it takes to deliver any type of project on time and under budget.

 An admitted film loyalist for much of his career, he’s evolved his shooting style into the digital world – using Sony’s F3 and, more recently, the NEX-FS100 camcorder. While the new digital tools offer a broader canvas for telling his stories, Schimmel still approaches his work the same way he did in his early graphic design days.

“On any new project I always envision the finished version first, and then I work backwards to figure out the creative approach best suited to telling the story,” Schimmel said. “The creative challenge in each new project is always related to storytelling. I conduct extensive research, sketch out dozens of ideas, and draw my own storyboard frames. I ask myself, ‘What am I not seeing?’ as a producer, and look for red flags and unforeseen challenges.”

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Mark Schimmel directing a recent project with Sony NEX-FS100 camcorder (credit: Olaf Starorypinski)

The Sony cameras help him overcome shooting challenges, especially in his current work as executive producer and director of the production company Once Upon a Time. He shoots about 20 projects a year, mostly marketing-related content and TV commercials, distributed on the web, on TV, or on mobile devices. Recent projects include a commercial campaign for Wrangler and a webisode series titled “Find a Doctor” for Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN).

“This business never stays in one place—just like the content,” Schimmel said. “Trends change the way we communicate and the way we communicate changes the type of marketing I specifically am asked to produce and direct. Whatever my current project is, my goals are creating value, making it different, fulfilling the client’s directives, remaining a creative leader in my field and stretching myself. For every project, I strive to remain contemporary, using cutting-edge technology to constantly reinvent myself. Thanks to new technology I can work faster and smarter with smaller lighting packages and more versatile, robust HD cameras.”

Schimmel first used Sony cameras on a commercial project for the United States Postal Service, shooting in the Betacam SP format. He moved to digital for his next commercial project then to high-definition cinematography, finally leaving film behind.

“As I increasingly embraced digital technology, I shot with a variety of cameras and developed techniques to compensate for the depth-of-field issues I had with early HD,” he said. “Over time it became clear that one camera company, Sony, was the best fit for my work and I began an in-depth study of the digital workflow.”

Each of his recent projects – Wrangler and LVHN – had a range of unique requirements and challenges that the Sony NEX-FS100 camcorder proved more than able to handle.

“When Wrangler first described the campaign, I specifically thought about what a great opportunity it would be to shoot horses, livestock, cowboys, rodeo stars, and to work with rodeo stars,” he said. “I immediately fell in love with the idea of creating spectacular shots on working ranches in the southwest. Once I arrived on location, it was easy to see the shots I wanted and where to place the camera. When LVHN approached me to produce, direct, and edit the initial launch for the ‘Find a Doctor’ series, I thought about how to stay on schedule and shoot 15 doctor-interviews per day while still making a creative, authentic, visually compelling project.”

Schimmel’s preferred “look” often combines the holographic feel of oversaturated color, a contemporary look, extended depth-of-field, composition that complements the directives, color-temperature related to content and the best lens for the story being told.

“The story influences what works best,” he said. “That will get me there, it is not always about the biggest, most expensive, or most cutting-edge tools; it is about using the best tool for the job. Sony cameras have consistently proven to be the right solution to my production challenges, and these two projects were no exception.”

On the Wrangler project, Schimmel and his team had trouble solving one scene: shooting high-speed roping and the high-speed shots of cattle drives. After running tests, he decided to use the NEX-FS100 camcorder for all high-speed shots.

“The fluidity of the FS100 footage from these scenes is not-to-be-believed,” he said.

For the “Find a Doctor” series, Schimmel was impressed by the camcorder’s efficiency and quality as well as the camera’s small size which is “less intimidating to non-actors,” he said.

One constant in the majority of his work is the need for wide dynamic range and flexibility in all light conditions, including low light.

Mark Schimmel 8290-POST_rezise “I love the FS100 specifically for its Exmor Super 35 CMOS sensor and the S35 chip,” he said. “The camera helps to create a subtle and stunning ‘bokeh’ effect combined with depth of field, which is very important to the look and feel I am always trying to achieve.  The sensor also delivers outstanding exposure latitude for HD shooting. During the Wrangler project when I was shooting in the roping arena, there was no artificial light, only ambient light filtering through a translucent roof covering. The camera’s exposure latitude allowed me to shoot at 60 FPS in low light conditions. The end results were outstanding.”

As a director who edits the majority of his own footage, Schimmel appreciates the Sony cameras most when he is color correcting. He does not usually work with a colorist in preproduction, preferring instead to do most correction in-camera and during the correction phase; “simply enhancing what already exists.”

“During editing there is a vast advantage to correcting images shot with a Sony,” he said. “I correct not only by eye, but also by taste and feel (guided by the scope) to obtain the right emotive content. The Sony cameras offer me simpler corrections within a greater creative range.”

The Wrangler and LVHN images that were shot in very low light needed minimal color correction.  “The correction was easy,” he said. “Maintaining skin tones against the white lab coats of the doctors was an effortless fix. For the background, I was able to cool down the spill from the fluorescent lights. When I am correcting Sony footage compared to footage from other cameras, I find that Sony provides me with an image that offers me more color information.”

A “Light” Touch”

Known for their performance and sensitivity in varying lighting conditions, especially available and low light, the NEX-FS100 camcorder proved up to the challenge of his production requirements. For Wrangler, the goal was authenticity so very little artificial lighting was used. Instead, Schimmel and team planned shots around the natural light on location and used that to their advantage. For the LVHN series, he incorporated the overhead fluorescent lighting in the hallway where he was shooting without having to replace every bulb in the fixture.

“Natural light helps me tell the story,” he said. “Over time, the style of lighting and camera work has evolved with the technology but, ultimately, the goals of a project dictate the style of lighting.”

On both shoots, the exterior scenes meant dealing with the elements and changing weather. Again, the small and flexible Sony cameras came through. He noted that the specific challenge with the Wrangler project had to do with its large scale, including the number of animals used as “extras” and the need to cover vastly spread-out Texas ranch locations.

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A frame grab from one of Mark Schimmel’s recent projects

“It was a challenge getting to the desired camera positions at the right time of day,” he said. “The smaller and smarter cameras really helped to move the production along. I loved that instead of using a dolly and having to lay and level track, I could rent a Dana Dolly or slider and get similar results in-camera. Since fully embracing the digital realm, I have found a new passion for acquiring images. Digital technology and Sony cameras allow me to do more, shoot more, and offer more value to my clients.”

The LVHN project was almost a polar opposite. Instead of being outdoors, the cameras were confined to narrow hallways inside a hospital.

“Instead of fighting or ignoring the location, I embraced the elements in the hallway,” Schimmel said. “That made the piece interesting while keeping the focus on the doctors being interviewed.

“It all comes down to finding the right tool for the right job, and for these projects and just about everything else I work on, the Sony cameras are the right choice,” he concluded. “I demand a lot from the cameras I choose because my technology is an extension of and inextricably connected to my own vision.”

For more information about Mark Schimmel and his work, visit, www.markschimmel.com and www.onceuponatimedigital.com.

 

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  1. shelli mihelich wrote: November 13, 2013 2:51pm

    I have been following the works of Mark Schimmel from the very beginning of his career…he is truly a creative amazement as he has the ability to constantly re-invent himself with each project. His work always puts a smile on my face as I always look forward to the next and the next. Kudos to you Mark!!!!!

    Reply
  2. Stacey P. wrote: November 18, 2013 1:14pm

    Mark’s professionalism is unmatched. I wouldn’t even consider using someone else for my projects. This article brings to light many of the reasons I regard his work so highly;detail, detail, detail. Bravo!

    Reply
  3. Luke Robinson wrote: February 7, 2014 7:27am

    Can you atleast make a PC Game for Clone Wars Adventures before you get rid of it. I’d like to put the cd in my computer and play it even if it is closed. Or are you gonna make CWA 2? Let me know soon.

    Reply

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