Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Fast from the Past: An Interview with Randall P. Dark

Randall Dark. Photos by Sharon Rankin

Speed Junkies: Randall Dark and Sharon Rankin on Fast from the Past Shooting a Vintage Race Car 

Docu-Series Mixing Gorgeous 4K and Scrappy Little HD POV Cameras 

By Bryant Frazer 

Filmmaker Randall Dark brought a lot of cameras to his latest shoot. Fast from the Past, the pilot-in-progress for a proposed reality-based television series following everyday characters as they rebuild classic muscle cars into racing vehicles to take out on the track. The project originated with Mark Mcilyar, a self-taught mechanic, body shop owner and vintage race-car driver who acts as producer, host and storyliner for the program. Dark describes Mcilyar and his friends as "interesting people with an outrageous hobby" worthy of a series dedicated to their exploits. We talked to Dark, director and cinematographer on the pilot, and his colleague Sharon Rankin, who helped wrangle cameras and shot behind-the-scenes stills for the project.

StudioDaily: So how did you connect with the wild world of vintage race car drivers?

Randall Dark: I love all sports. If it's 'the best in the world,' I'm there — whether it's tiddlywinks, the Olympics, or these crazy people putting together these cars. We follow a dentist and a fireman in their adventures racing on the Indianapolis Speedway. So when the show's host, Mark Mcilyar, brought the project to me, he had me at 'hello.'

What kind of cameras were in your kit?

RD: I brought a 4K JVC camera and a Canon camera, but I also had 10 GoPros and 10 JVC ADIXXION cameras with me. Part of telling the story is that you don't want to be up in the stands. You need the wide shot, but also the medium shot and the tight shot to tell a story. And it's innovative companies like JVC and GoPro and Canon, et cetera, who've developed the technology that gets people like me and Sharon inside events instead of outside of them.

Sharon Rankin: I'm a Nikon shooter. I brought Nikon D3s with four different lenses, and I had just tried the Sony a7R II.

Sharon Rankin. Photo by Scott Rankin
Randall, all of those action cameras helped you get inside some tight spaces with the drivers, right?

RD: I've shot NASCAR and other speed events, and it's really tricky to get cameras in certain places on these cars. The cars are unbelievably expensive, for one thing, and normally the professional drivers don't want you filming where you can see them doing their secret things. But what's different about a fireman and a dentist is that they are so generous and nice. We were allowed complete access.

What was different about the JVC cameras compared to the ubiquitous GoPro?

RD: The JVC action camera has a side LCD viewfinder and a zoom lens, so I can put it on the outside of cars, inside them, on the top of them. But when I was framing, with a GoPro you're running and gunning so you set it there and hope the angle is right and off it goes. But with a viewfinder and a zoom lens, I was able to get cool shots, zooming in or out a little bit for more flexibility. The JVC 4K camera was a very portable run-and-gun camera with an attached mic. I also brought a Canon HDV camera, and we brought in the 5D Mark II. I try to keep my camera technology as light as possible. I would use a more elaborate rig with a matte box and filters on a feature film like Angels Sing, but for this project I couldn't tell the story I wanted to tell with big technology.

But could you project it on a big screen if you needed to?

RD: Yes, and here's why. When you shoot an interview, you can shoot it at 4K and light it beautifully and it looks great. When you've got a GoPro or a JVC portable camera on the outside of a car racing by and you intercut that footage, your brain forgives the difference in image quality. You accept the difference in resolution because of the type of shot you're seeing.

What shots did you get that you're especially proud of?

Photo: Sharon Rankin
SR: There was a shot that I took in the aisleway next to the racetrack where you see the car coming toward the camera. That was one of my favorite shots, partly because I was leaning out into the track and the car, in order to pass, came probably within a foot of me at 200 mph. I was pelted with stones and debris. For me, getting that shot was exhilarating and as scary as anything.

Photo: Sharon Rankin
RD: I really loved some of the POV shots I was able to get with the portable technology that I never could have gotten if I had to crawl in with the driver. I do love one shot that Sharon took. I was using one of the JVC cameras to shoot a car going by, and it looks like I've got a gun and I'm shooting at them. If you're a spectator, and you don't know that it's a tiny camera, you're wondering why that guy's following the car like he's got a lightsaber or something.

How long was the shoot?

RD: It was a three-day shoot for us. There are different events on different days, and we wanted to represent all of the different classes of cars. And it helps in telling the story to get things that happen on day one and then follow up on day two. And you have to do fun interviews. One of the race-car drivers went into the gravel pit and got rocks under the car that they have to get out before the next race. So I did one of the interviews under the car with the driver as he was cleaning out the rocks. I think other documentary approaches are valid, but I wanted people to feel the dirt and the grit [of the track] so that was a natural choice.

So how carefully did you plan the shoot? Did you plan out the shots and sequences you needed to get in order to tell the story you wanted to tell?

RD: I didn't want to know too much about the event before I threw myself into it. With a lot of my work, I get so excited about doing things that the work becomes — not childlike, but it has that enthusiasm. I don't recommend it for everybody, but I don't overplan or overthink my projects. I work them out in the moment, and I think that makes my work more organic.

But does it make it harder to stay focused?

RD: Kristen Cox produces for me a lot of the time, and she always says, "Randall, you've got to slow down." I need someone to keep me on one shot before I run across the racetrack to get that other shot over there. It's a combination of not being naive in the moment, but also not being a hardened expert in racing. I see it through rose-colored glasses, and I think the storytelling reflects that. I'm not heavily involved, but I'm a fan of what these guys are doing. I'm just experiencing it for the first time, and I can't wait to share it with the world.

Do you feel like you've developed your own documentary shooting style?

RD: When I did Makarios: A Rising Tide, I was in the Dominican Republic, shooting in a village that had no running water or electricity. In that environment, I moved slowly, quietly and respectfully. I'm going into their impoverished environment to tell their story as best I can, with as much respect as possible. My style in that world was calm, quiet. I became a different type of director because the environment required me to be a different type of person. On the Indy 500 racetrack I can get away with running around screaming and yelling because the track is so loud, but it's a type of energy I'm bringing to the type of cinematography I'm trying to create. You can't go around screaming in someone's house. If you look at the documentaries I've done, you'll see a different type of feeling and camerawork because the story I'm trying to tell demands it. Not because "Randall Dark's style is to use a shaky-cam."

What did you learn from this project?

RD: One thing Sharon has taught me is to believe in vertical marketing. A lot of the time, I'm so busy directing or shooting that I forget about getting the shots that I need for marketing. Sharon, how many shots did you take?

SR: I took at least 7,000 images for this project.

RD: It's a lot of work for her to find those shots. But all of a sudden, I'm talking to broadcast and distribution and they ask, 'What do you have [to promote this]?' To say we have an edited program and behind-the-scenes photography, it just makes it a better package for presentation.

It sounds like you've developed a good working relationship. 

SR: I love working with Randall, and I love racing and cars, so it was a great opportunity to put my passion for photography forward with this project. We did a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun.

Article courtesy Studio Daily

Monday, February 22, 2016

Spend the Evening with Producer, Director, and Cinematographer Randall P Dark

On Thursday, March 10 at 11 pm ET / 10 pm CT,  join the conversation with Randall P. Dark on Deadly Reads Radio.

Randall will be talking about HDTV, of course, and loads of other fascinating topics... like his play and children's app Tale of Sasquatch, and his brand new play and children's app Easter Frog: The Brains Behind the Bunny.

Click here to listen to the interview. Call in live to talk with Randall at 646-668-2716.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Randall P. Dark Named to Caucus Foundation Advisory Board

LOS ANGELES, June 29, 2015 - The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation announced its new Board of Directors and a milestone $1.4 million awarded through its national Student Grant Program. The program combats the lack of diversity in content and creatives working in the entertainment industry by helping to launch the careers of student filmmakers from currently underrepresented groups.

Producer Randall P. Dark, director John C. Moffitt and producer Frank von Zerneck were named to a newly created Advisory Board. The alumni network welcomed new CFAN President, Karen Pyudik, a 2001 grant recipient, who completed her masters degree at AFI and is a producer at 124th Street Films.

via The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors Foundation

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Producer Randall Dark and Director Howard Lukk on "Moving Images"

Producer Randall Dark and Director Howard Lukk discuss the forthcoming SMPTE documentary "Moving Images" at NAB 2015.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Playwright Q & A with Randall Dark

Playwrights Guild of Canada recently talked to Randall Dark about his love for theatre and technology, turning a play into a mobile app, and finding new ways to reach a broader audience. His "Tale of Sasquatch" is now available in the iTunes store and for Android in the Google Store.

iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tale-of-sasquatch/id976735663?mt=8 

Android / Google Play - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.everaftertales.sasquatch

Q: Your play "The Tale of Sasquatch" is now available on the Apple Appstore and Googlestore. What was it about this particular play that made you think it would lend itself to being transformed into an interactive ebook?

A: During the 80's "Tale of Sasquatch" was produced many times throughout Canada both as a stage play and a touring play that was performed in city parks and schools. I found that the interaction between the audience and actors enhanced the play and I saw how the children became more animated. A few years ago, I did a major re-write and added an additional character to the the play that would further increase the interaction. When Hal Waite told me about his interactive ebook initiative I immediately saw the potential for this play to be a great fit.

Q: You are recognized for your work as a technological visionary. Your work in High Definition projects have included feature films, documentaries, music videos and corporate presentations. Additionally, you have also been the recipient of the International Electronic Cinema Festival's Pioneer Award and are a member of the Television Arts and Sciences Academy and the Consumer Electronics Association's Academy of Digital Pioneers. It's safe to say that you are very tech-savvy. How did you come up with the idea to create an app from one of your plays? How involved were you in the design process?

A: A few years ago, I had a conversation with Hal Waite, who is an extremely talented filmmaker with a stellar resume in the world of children's content. Hal told me about Ever After Tales and his plan to create this cool app for kids. He was looking for stories and invited me to share my work with him. Although I've written a number of children's plays over the years, I thought "Tale of Sasquatch" had the most potential for fun images and unique interaction. Panagiotis Rappas created the illustrations and I'm so pleased with his vision. He was very generous, seeking my feedback along the way, but it was largely unnecessary since he brilliantly interpreted my characters.

Q: For other playwrights who might be interested in making their plays into apps, where should they begin? What suggestions do you have for those who might not be as tech-savvy and are making their first foray into new media?

A: Although I have a reputation of being "tech-savvy" in the world of high definition, in this instance I was able to enjoy being the writer while the Ever After Tales team forged the technology journey.
(Hal White, Executive Producer of "Tale of Sasquatch" adds): Obviously a playwright must start with a great story. A story with a message that makes children laugh, has the potential to give them an interactive experience and will stimulate a child's imagination. A writer doesn't need to be tech savvy, however it helps to understand who the audience is they are talking to. Look at what apps are out there, understand the app market and learn to write succinctly.

Q: What have you learned from the experience of turning your play into an app? Do you think that by doing so, "The Tale of Sasquatch" can still be considered a play?

A: The most important lesson was staying true to what originally worked as a play. I didn't try to re-invent the story or alter the characters. I believed that what made my story unique in the world of theatre would carry over into the world of app technology.
Hal and Panagiotis kept the play format when they created the app and in the "About / Info" section, I describe a Three Act play and created "Rupert's Ten Acting Words Of Wisdom" as well as "Rupert Dictionary of Theatrical Terms From A to Z". I thought a young reader would find it interesting.
I think a good story crosses over the boundaries of technology and as writers we owe it to ourselves to push not only the traditional writer/audience theatrical relationship but also embrace new ways of getting our plays to a broader audience. I honestly don't care if my plays are seen in a theatre or on a iPad, iPhone or Tablet. I just want to share the world I created with as large an audience as possible.

Q: Is integrating your theatrical work with new media a priority for you? Has it changed your writing process in any way? How important is it for you to find new ways for audiences to interact with your work?

A: My career has be defined by being on the bleeding edge of technology (especially in the early years of high definition), so it seemed only natural to combine my love of theatre and my fascination with technology. My writing process hasn't changed, but my writing has. Understanding the technology allowed me to write scenes that are enhanced by these new tools. It has allowed me to find exciting new ways to interact with the audience.

Q: Now that you have an interactive ebook under your belt, what can we expect next from you?

A: I'm currently producing a documentary feature titled, "Moving Images" which will explore the contributions of SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) to the last 100 years of film and television. I'm also working on two new children's plays that are intended exclusively for app distribution. One of the two is being co-authored by William Lucas and will include original songs full of fun, clever lyrics.

courtesy Playwrights Guild of Canada

Saturday, January 24, 2015

A First Look

A proposal for Rupert in the interactive ebook "Tale of Sasquatch" written by Randall P. Dark. Soon to be available from Ever After Tales as an app in Applestore and Googlestore.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Tale of Sasquatch" to Become an Interactive E-Book

Stage design of "Tale of Sasquatch" from Ever After Tales

Ever After Tales is also delighted to present: "Tale of Sasquatch", by Randall Dark, acclaimed Canadian theater and film director and high definition TV pioneer. This great story, which has been very popular in Canada as a theater play, is published for the first time worldwide in interactive e-book format. "Tale of Sasquatch" will soon be available in English, Spanish and Greek via Applestore and Googlestore.

 “Tale of Sasquatch” follows the misadventures of Rupert (or Woopert, as he would say) and his best friend Mr. Stinky the sock, as they search the woods for food. Faced with wacky challenges and hilarious encounters with quirky characters, the story is really about feeling like there’s something “wrong” with you — and discovering that it’s okay to be different. During their quest, they wrestle with good vs. bad and ultimately stumble upon the origin of Sasquatch!

More at Ever After Tales here.