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Difference of Shooting Between the US and Japan: Interview with a Director of Photography Vol.1

by suzon
 
credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

In the movie industry, each country has its own preferences in terms of shooting. And today we are going to look into the differences that exist between the United States and Japan.

To do so, we invited the American Director of Photography Daniel Lazoff to talk about his experience in both countries.

 

Interview of Daniel Lazoff, on December 18th 2018, in vivito Inc.’s Tokyo office:

 

HV (HelloVideo! team): Could you briefly talk about your career in the US and in Japan?

Dan (Daniel Lazoff): Yes. I started working for MTV in 2007 as a production assistant for a TV show. From there, I had a couple of jobs as an assistant director and eventually, I got my way in the camera department for different shows. I was a freelancer so I worked for different companies, then I started shooting a lot more a few years later.

Then in 2013, I got offered a job as a shooter/post-production producer for a popular TV show on MTV, called Catfish for 4 seasons (3 and a half years). After season 5, I moved to Japan.

 

HV: How did it start in Japan?

Dan: I took a trip about 1 year before moving to Japan, to make some contacts within the film and TV industry. I moved here but I remember it was slow first months. Then I started to get some calls, mostly for corporate works or small web commercials. Now I’ve been in Japan for 2 and a half years. From last year I’ve been involved in bigger projects. Now I have my own list of clients.

 

HV: Since you came to Japan, how many projects have you been involved in?

Dan: Oh…(counting) Over a hundred projects.

 

HV: How did your career as a cameraman start and why did you choose this path?

Dan: I went to school to study films when I was nineteen. I think I was someone who wanted to tell stories. I thought: “I wanna be a writer or a director.” But it turned out I don’t like writing and I don’t like directing. (laugh) One day, I shot a little student film for school and a teacher saw it and told me: “You should do this for a living, you should be shooting.”. So I thought that if I was okay doing this, then why not keep shooting!

credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

HV: Why did you choose to work in Japan?

Dan: I’ve been coming to Japan for vacations for years. The first time I came was in 2003 and I really liked Japan. I thought it was a wonderful place to be. And one of my best friends is Japanese, so I came with him a few times. I’ve been living in Los Angeles for years but it never felt like home for me. And during one of my trips with my Japanese friend, I just felt something about Japan and I thought: “I’m going to move here in the next 3 or 4 years.”. So I started planning from then.

 

HV: What do you like about Japan?

Dan: I think what I like about Japan is the obvious things such as food and in Tokyo, transportation, the nightlife, etc…

But I think as a cameraman, good thing about Japan is that everything is photogenic. If you go out to the countryside it is just gorgeous, one of the most beautiful landscape. Actually, the architecture is just incredible. Tokyo doesn’t have this kind of uniform standard for building, unlike a lot of other big cities, where everything tend to look the same, same colors, same shapes,… whereas in Tokyo, anything goes. When walking in the street, and looking up at the buildings, everything looks good, it is inspiring.

 

HV: Among your productions, is there one you consider the best production you’ve ever made?

Dan: Not really. The most recent project always appears to be the best. Hopefully. (laugh)

It is supposed to be like the best thing I’ve ever done. But I think it is always a learning process, so I try not to say that. I kind of set that benchmark for myself.

 

HV: Then, do you have one shooting that will always remain in your mind?

Dan: Some of the worse shoots I’ve ever done are the one I will always remember (laugh). If it is a really bad shoot, when nothing goes well, it will become something I can always look back on and say that it only gets better. I actually appreciate those shoots the most, the difficult ones, because it pushes me to do better. I also keep in mind that wherever I shoot next, it’s gonna be better. (laugh)

credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

HV: What are the main differences between the US and Japan in terms of :

  1. Shooting techniques

a. Lighting

Dan: Things that I’ve noticed in Japan, and not only in Japan, is over-lighting. When you put NHK on TV, you can see it, it is just lit, there is no mood. In the US, you would call that a “sitcom lighting”, where everything is overhead lights. There is no shape to the light, it is coming from all directions, there is no depth. It is not for all Japanese things but mostly for the mainstream. It is pretty used on TV.

 

Author’s note:Sitcom lighting” refers to the kind of lighting used in American sitcoms, that is to say placing lights above the set, down on the floor, and under the cameras, to keep permanent lighting on the whole scene and characters. The reason why they use this lighting is that sitcoms are usually shot on live, with an audience who would not have the patience to wait for too many lights changing.

 

b. Framing

When it comes to framing, I think Japan tends to frame a little on the wide side. So you see more of what is in the scene, which can be a good thing. Sometimes it could make sense but I just see a lot of these kinds of static wider shots where I think it should be a little closer, a little more personal. I especially see it a lot on TV.

c. Scene shooting

Another difference between the US and Japan is how things are shot on set. In Japan, they shoot line by line. But in the US it is more like a master shot, we shoot the whole scene, and then we do a close-up shot of one of the characters. In Japan, the directors will do an edit in their mind, and say: “We only need this part of the shot.”, “We’ll only shoot that instead of shooting the whole scene.”. Which means that for editing it doesn’t quite work out because you are stuck with the few shots you have.

For example in the US for one scene, we will have 5 shots. And each one of these shots is the entire scene. For example, even if the characters are not talking, we are still shooting their face.

I think some of the younger Japanese directors are starting to adapt more, especially if they studied overseas, like in Australia, the US or the UK.

 

Author’s note: It is true that Japanese directors shoot only the parts of the scene they need. The reason why is that compared to the USA, film budgets are lower in Japan, and consequently so does the time for shooting.

 

2. Plan and preparation of a shooting

Dan: In my experience, it is pretty similar, which means never enough planning. In the US, there is never enough pre-production, and it is the same in Japan. Everything is sort of last minute and that is not unique to Japan. That is how this industry works a lot of times. Especially for low and midrange projects, or project-projects.

 

3. Relationship between the different agents involved in movie production? (director, photography director, producers, actors, etc..)

Dan: I don’t know how producers and directors interact, but for me, my relationship with directors in Japan is similar to my relationship with directors in the US. But I think that a lot of Japanese directors when they hire a DP (Director of Photography), they are more looking for a cameraman than a director of photography.

For me, it depends on the project, especially big projects, but I like to be involved. Not in the writing, not in the blocking, nor how the actors are playing, but in the framing. I want to have the power to say “I want to try this shot instead of this one, because this is not working very well…”.

Most of Japanese directors that hired me are very responsive to that. The Japanese system is sort of the director at the top and the DP is more like a cameraman who executes the director’s vision, rather than a partner with whom the director could create a visual story.

In the USA it is about the same but the system is different. The DP is not necessarily equal to the director but has a word to say.

From my experience in Japan, it has been okay most of the time.

credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

4. Are there areas in movie making where Japan is late compared to the USA?

Dan: Yes, I think on TV especially. Because it is my area of interest and I like good TV. I think that Japanese TV shows’ visual aspects are sort of stuck in this whole way of making things. If you watch something from HBO for example, TV shows are like little movies, episodic movies. Whereas in Japan, it looks a little cheap. I think there are a lot of great stories to tell in Japan but they need to improve the visual aspects. There could be potential for international appeal.

 

5. What are the current trends in the USA? In Japan?

Dan: The big trends in the US have mostly to do with distribution. Streaming is sort of killing off everything. And I think it has not come the same way in Japan. I mean I think it is also popular here but the numbers (of people using streaming websites) are nothing compared to the United States. When people in the US talk about movies or TV, it is always in a context of watching it on Netflix, or HBO Go, Hulu, etc… Whereas in Japan I think that it hasn’t cut on quite yet.

In Japan I don’t know personally anyone interested in TV. I am not entirely sure what is the trend here. But I think that if people in Japan are less interested in watching movies it is not because people are changing that much. But maybe because there is not enough content that is appealing for people between the ages of 18 and 40 on Japanese TV.

 

Author’s note: Indeed streaming success is quite important in the USA (with nearly 53% of the American population using Netflix, against 16,5% in Japan), but Japanese people use streaming quite a lot as well, with 56,9% of the population using the platform Amazon Prime, against 29% in the USA.

 

6. Are there any difference of working style, culture?

Dan: Yes I noticed huge differences. (laugh)

In Japan for the most part everyone is more polite. Which makes working here easier.

In Los Angeles, when I was coming up, some of the producers or executives were kind of tiring. You have people who scream at you, mass fire employees just because they feel like it, and you don’t see that often in Japan. I have never experienced it since I’ve been here. So that’s one of the big differences.

Other big difference, I got to shoot a commercial project in the US and the producers are standing at the top.

Whereas in Japan, there are a lot more voices, which can slow things down sometimes, because there is not just one person deciding. At least for big projects. For smaller projects, there’s only one person deciding. I think for bigger commercials, at least in projects that I’ve done, there are many people with ideas so they will do a meeting to talk about it. It is a little slower pace because there are more people involved and they have the power to speak on set.

Whereas in the United States it is different. The producer or the director decides. Well… depending on who the director is.

 

7. Recognition of creators’ work, treatment:

Dan: I think that it is a little more even in Japan. At least it feels like each person has more importance. In the US it is more the top/down kind of relation.

But for directors of photography, my position, I don’t see a big difference.

 

HV: In your opinion, how could Japan improve its film industry?

Dan: If Japan could follow western countries in terms of TV creation, like good episodic creation, such as on Netflix or Hulu, there would be a huge potential for success there.

I think the Japanese Government is now pushing very hard to Western countries regarding tourism to Japan. And it has worked pretty well. For example, everyone in the US knows something about Japan. And I think if Japan can make good TV contents, with international visibility, that could be successful.

 

HV: What is the most important thing for you while filming a movie?

Dan: To remain calm, and polite and that is something I am constantly improving. I wasn’t always like that. Some of my old colleagues can attest. (laugh)

I think that’s one thing I am trying to improve. Like, how can I be a good DP, an aggressive DP but still a pleasant person to be around. And that’s very important for me. I think that’s something I’ve really improved on. Because the people around me are usually very polite and easy to work with.

credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

HV: To what is owed your success? Do you have any tips or secrets?

Dan: I think the key thing is to not give up when it gets tough. It is kind of cliché but it is true. There was a time when I was living in a crappy apartment in Los Angeles, I was sort of hopeless and thinking that maybe I would just stop doing this and get a job not even related to this industry. I hold out for a little bit, and a week later I would get a call for a job. So my personal advice is: “just hang in there, and keep working hard.”

 

HV: Do you have any preferences when choosing a lens?

Dan: I would definitely choose fast lenses. Anything so I can isolate my subject from the background. Some cheaper lens have a lower maximum aperture, which results in everything being in focus, especially when you’re on a wide shot.

So 99% of the time I shoot wide open, to isolate my subject from the background and really focus on the person or the subject, rather than what’s around them.

 

HV: Does it depend on the director’s choice?

Dan: The director could say something about my choice, they could also make that choice, but I never happened. Well, maybe once. (laugh)

 

HV: What kind of scene do you like to shoot and why? (for example: see list)

Dan: It doesn’t really matter to me, as long as it is something personal, that tells a good story. I usually like to shoot narrative stuff.  I like to get close to the person, have something a little bit intimate. It doesn’t matter if it’s a romantic or sad scene, as long as I feel something while shooting it.

 

HV: What are you doing to improve your skills? Do you have any habits?

Dan: Yes. After every shoot, usually I come home and I think about what I could have done better. And I look at the footage that I shot and analyze it to see what I can improve. And that has been very effective as I can say I have improved my work. What I actually do is, I take mental notes to remember not to do the same mistake.

Then, I think the other thing to improve is to work with people who are better than you at what they do. So I work with DPs who have a lot more experience than I have and that’s been great to improve my ability as a cinema photographer.

 

HV: Have you ever shot a movie discarding the shooting rules?

Dan: Oh yeah all the time (laugh), if it makes sense for the story. I think the important thing is to understand why those rules exist, and when to break them. It is a guideline and it is there because we are converting what you see in 3D, into 2D.

But if you want to create something that is disorienting, for example for a disorienting scene in a horror film, you might choose to break that (shooting rules) on purpose.

 

HV: What genre do you dislike and why?

Dan: Anything that Gus Van Sant* has done in the past 15 years (laugh).

Aside from this, I think there are not a lot of things that I dislike. I try to watch everything and take the good aspects of it. I can watch a very bad movie and admit that they did it very well. I am not very snappy when it comes to movies and TV. And I don’t care for reality TV. And by the way you don’t see a ton of that in Japan. There are a little bit, like 2 or 3 shows. Not like in the United States.

 

HV: In your opinion, how does movie shooting evolve with time and new technologies such as smartphones?

Dan: That’s an interesting question. I think that as a camera guy, the one thing I’ve noticed since I started is that the cameras are getting smaller. That’s the big thing. When I started, I learned on these big cameras, and they are just getting smaller and smaller. Now I shoot on a red camera, those little boxes, but it makes an incredible image.

I think more people are shooting movies on DSLR or mirrorless cameras.

People are even trying to shoot movies on their phones which is interesting. I just got an iPhone and I’ve been talking about how amazing the camera is on it. 5 years ago if I have had this phone, you can be sure I would have shot movies with it.

 

HV: Would you like to try new challenges, new things, that doesn’t exist?

Dan: I think I wanna try bigger and bigger projects, bigger CM, bigger movies. I would like to DP a new TV show in Japan. That would be my dream.

credit image: Daniel Lazoff
 

HV: Thank you so much for this interview, we sincerely hope you will keep doing such amazing photography works for a long time!

 

If you want to know more about Daniel Lazoff’s shooting techniques, you should have a look at the Vol.2.

 

You can also find Daniel Lazoff’s work on his website:

http://www.cameramandan.com/

If you too made a video, you can share files and communicate with clients and partners in one place, by using HelloVideo!:

https://app.hello-vi.com/trunk/

   


*Gus Van Sant is an American film director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician, and author. From 2003 he returned to arthouse cinema.



The Importance of Light and Aperture in Shooting Emotional Movies: Interview with a Director of Photography Vol.2

by suzon

credit image: Daniel Lazoff

We had the chance to meet and talk with the American Director of Photography Daniel Lazoff, who has been working in Japan for 2 years and a half now. Originally from Seattle, Daniel moved to Southern California to accomplish his wish to work in the film industry. He first aimed to tell stories, as a writer or as a director. But after taking classes, he just realized he wasn’t meant to do that. After his school project was recognized by one of his professor, he took the decision to pursue his path through movie photography and camera.

During this interview, Daniel, or Dan as he wants us to call him, mentioned the differences in shooting between the United States and Japan. You can find more information about these differences by reading the Vol.1 of the interview. He pointed out that Japanese directors had a preference for wide shots, which are commonly used for Japanese production movies. While on his side, Dan shoots 99% of the time wide open, to isolate the subject from the background and create a sort of intimacy with his subject.

Let’s have a look at Dan’s current project’s trailers and shots, a series of 4 short movies, untitled Teen Empowerment Project, directed by Koei Taga.

Interview of Daniel Lazoff, on December 18th 2018, in vivito Inc.’s Tokyo office:

 

HV (HelloVideo! blog team): Could you introduce us the project?

Dan (Daniel Lazoff): Yes. It is a collection of 4 short films that are actually very sad. The story is about teenagers who are in abusive relationships. It is sort of an art film, but it is also for young people to watch so they can understand what it is like to be in an abusive relationship.

The Director wanted the movies to feel like an Aronofsky film in some ways. Usually, his films have a little something of fantasy, but also some realism. It is the idea of using whatever is available, making it feel as real as if you were there.

Author’s note: Darren Aronofsky is an American filmmaker known for his surreal, disturbing style and more specifically for the movies Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan or more recently Mother!.

We had lighting, but we didn’t want to use it. We wanted it to feel somehow dirty. Even sometimes when it was too dark, as it was how it looked, we decided to use the shot that way.

HV: Did you use any specific shooting technique to adapt to the story?

Dan: For this entire shoot, we wanted the camera to be oriented sort of that you are watching the scene. If we put it on a tripod, it feels like it is on a tripod. So we wanted to make sure that it felt organic. And we also lit 85% of the shot with the only light we had.

 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yVi0dHiMEY&feature=youtu.be

HV: Could you explain how you shot these specific scenes, starting with the basketball scene?

Dan: Yes, of course. So for this particular shot, we made sure we were shooting at a time of the day when the sun wasn’t directly getting into the classroom. We shot around noon when the sun was pretty high up so we were getting the light coming from the window. And we closed the curtains a little bit to get some kind of diffusion and turned off the classroom’s lights. We wanted this whole project to feel dark.

HV: So you killed the overhead lights.

Dan: Yes, so we killed the overhead lights and just used the sunlight coming from the windows. They had these kinds of beige curtains, so we closed those, to get a natural and soft light coming from one side.

HV: You didn’t need any other lights?

Dan: We didn’t light any of it. But we framed it. This scene has 5 or 6 different shots and we would adjust our framing a little bit, depending on the light. I didn’t bring any lights inside this classroom.

HV: So you didn’t use any lights?

Dan: That is right. We only used natural lights. Only sunlight.

HV: You didn’t use a reflector either?

Dan: Not for this scene. But we used it for other shots.

Basketball scene
 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=POQgrqgK-nA&feature=youtu.be

HV: What about the lunch scene? You seem to have shot it against the light?

Dan: Yes that is right. We wanted to make sure for this scene that we didn’t completely blow out the background. Because we were shooting against the window, at a time of the day when the sun was really hot. So what I did is that I underexposed the entire scene. And then I lifted it up a little bit so we could expose for a highlight instead of just letting it turn to white and seeing nothing.

Lunch scene
 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuEOSMQ_I-Y&feature=youtu.be

HV: And how about the train scene?

Dan: We filmed this scene for about 5 minutes and then we just waited for the train to come (laugh). We shot very early in the morning, the light was very nice and soft.

Train scene
 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AuEOSMQ_I-Y&feature=youtu.be

HV: The lights on this sleeping scene look beautiful, could you talk about it?

Dan: Sure. This one we shot it at what we call the “magic hour”, which is right before the sun sets. So you can see the nice glow. We actually shot it outdoors, in this kind of patio area on the second floor of a school. And we waited until the sun was almost down, and filmed this scene. I think people genuinely look radiant in this kind of light. It was very photogenic. At that time of the day, especially as the days get shorter and shorter during winter, that period of time is called “magic hour” because it only lasts 20 minutes.

Sleeping scene
 

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiP9WGddAEY&feature=youtu.be

HV: And last but not least, the scene of the girl on the phone. We can perceive intense emotions in the picture. Could you tell us how you filmed this scene?

Dan: Well first, just in terms of framing, you can say it is kind of western style. When you shoot very wide open, you can see only in sharp focus. So here, you can see her fingers and one of her eyes, everything else is out of focus.

In this scene, she is actually having a very intense conversation on the phone with her boyfriend who is screaming at her. We wanted to see her face and her emotions. We didn’t care about what was around her for this particular shot. That is not important. We wanted to focus on the emotion in her eye. You cannot see but you can perceive that her hands are actually trembling a little bit during this conversation.

I’ve already worked on a project where the director would tell me to do a wide shot for this same kind of scene, but I would always answer: “You don’t need a wide shot on this.”.

Phone scene

HV: Thank you for explaining your work so precisely and easy to understand through this interview. We wish you all the best for this project!

 

You can find Daniel Lazoff’s works on his website:

http://www.cameramandan.com/


If you too made a video, you can share files and communicate with clients or partners in one place, by using HelloVideo!:

https://app.hello-vi.com/trunk/


HelloVideo! released new Plans to better answer video creators’ needs

by suzon

□ HelloVideo! allows you to save large size files, to share them, with a review and preview function.

HelloVideo! is the first platform to offer a tool for review and preview of videos. It aims to optimize the creative workflow of video creators.

Until now, you could upload and share your files anytime and anywhere. But from now, you will be able to upload larger and more files and create more Projects.

HelloVideo!’s first function is the video review and previews one, which aims to optimize the creative workflow of video creators.

We offer 3 new Plans: the Standard Plan, the Lite Plan, and the Pro Plan.

You are now able to choose the solution adapted to your needs, having in mind that the upper Plan you choose, the more storage capacity and number of Projects you will get!

□ You can have all your files at the same place!

Even a compressed file such as .mp4 or .mov files can still remain pretty large, which can be pretty troublesome to share. Indeed, video files are usually managed by hard disks, it is sometimes uneasy to find older files or to share them quickly.

What is new with the new HelloVideo! Release! The storage capacity of the Free Plan goes from 2GB to 200GB !!! And you can get up to 2TB capacity with the Pro Plan! Basically, you can store up to 2,000 files of 1GB each with the Pro Plan. You can try it out for free for 14 days!

※There is a weekly limit for the uploaded file size.

□ I want to look back at the reviewed videos that were sent to me…

“I previously uploaded a video on HelloVideo! and got a comment, but it disappeared before I could see it again …”

For such cases, the new HelloVideo!’s Comment History Download function can help you save the comments you receive on a video.

When you receive a comment on your video, it will be saved on the “comment history” page (※).

You can download a pdf file of the comment history from this same page.

※ The period during which you can restore the comments varies depending on your Plan.

From now too, HelloVideo! Is aiming to

  • Be the world’s most influential video platform
  • Creative workflow necessary item

And we are committed to optimizing the video industry.

Try out the new Plans from now!

https://app.hello-vi.com/trunk

Put all your files necessary for video production in one place!

by suzon

In this article, we will see step by step how to create your first Project on HelloVideo!.

Are you ready to try the HelloVideo! experience?

Then, let’s go!

First, you need to create an account on HelloVideo!. You can do it more quickly by using your Google or Facebook account.

Once you log in to your HelloVideo! account, you can put and manage all your files in one place! This place is your “Project”.

How to create and manage a Project? It is very simple. Let’s follow these few steps:

  1. Click on “Create a New Project”

You just need to enter the name of your Project and click on “create”.

See? Simple!

And you can even personalize the name and the thumbnail of your Project:


Now let’s upload a file.
 1. Enter your Project and click on the “Drag and Drop or Select a file” area.

Now, you can organize all your files if you want!

  1. To create a folder, click on “New Folder”

There, you can once again drag & drop your files or just select them from your computer.


Now you can share your Project with your collaborators when needed.

  1. To share your Project, click on the “invite” button, then copy the link and send it to the person you want to share your files with.

The persons you sent the link to, can access your files.

Without an account: for 7 days?

With an account: indefinitely

You can have all these options from the previous page:

Now that you created your Project and shared your files, you can enjoy the HelloVideo! experience with your collaborators and clients!

If you want to share your experience or opinion about HelloVideo!, please leave a comment!

About HelloVideo!

by vivito

To everyone who is wondering what is HelloVideo!, here is the answer!

In a few words, HelloVideo! is a platform made to solve video production problems.

“It is quite troublesome to share video files.”

“It takes time to discuss video reviews.”


Have you ever felt that you needed a more convenient way to share and review your videos?

With HelloVideo! several people can review and preview videos anytime and anywhere!

Without logging on the platform, you can upload a video, check it and give your feedback directly on the internet.

You can also share very easily movie production related material such as video or planning charts at the same time. And during the preview, you can choose to download the files individually or in bulk.

That way, you can use HelloVideo! without logging in, but having a free account on HelloVideo! offers even more possibilities!

When you create an account on HelloVideo!, you can have your own space with all your projects. There, you can manage your own files and the files that have been shared with you.

In addition, you can access your files whenever you want, without any time limits!

We are planning to add new plans, to give the users a better and more useful experience.

What HelloVideo! aims to be in 5 years:

  • The world’s most influential video platform
  • To be the creative workflow essential item

But first, let’s try it out!

 ↓
https://app.hello-vi.com/trunk