We’ve enjoyed many celebratory beers and tasty lunches at Tony’s Darts Away.
But one of the unexpected bonuses of setting up shop right next to your favorite bar (besides the obvious) is getting to know their amazing staff.
Their award-winning chef, Caroline, needed a professional portrait / headshot that she could use for publicity and personal work, so of course I was excited when she asked me to take them.
We wanted to keep it stylized but simple – to reflect her openly friendly, no-nonsense personality, and the tasty cuisine featuring simple elements that combine for an amazing meal.
The first setup (natural light with strobe fill) was shot in our back area and features the wood fence that separates our two properties. The second, brings in texture and depth. No hair and makeup, just fresh – like Caroline, and her food.
We had so much fun, I asked if I could follow her around the kitchen for an hour, so we could share some of her amazing food in photos as well. My first foray into food photography, my main job was to stay out of her way. (easier said than done in the tiny galley kitchen.) The results showcase some of her culinary skills in the unexpected environment of a local bar. And my mouth waters just looking at the food.
They do it right at Tony’s, as many of us can attest to… from craft California beers to vegan food options.. you’ll find lots to love there. Plus, they have the BEST CHEF OF BURBANK working hard for you.
(And don’t forget to give a shout of thanks to Caroline when that delicious meal is served! )
Read more about Caroline in this LA Times article.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND POST WORK BY JEN SERENA
A few years ago, NBC took a big risk with their live broadcast of the musical, Sound of Music, featuring Carrie Underwood. The gamble paid off with record numbers that justified a follow-up broadcast of Peter Pan and most recently, The Wiz, featuring Queen Latifah, David Allan Grier and Shanice Williams. For the most recent musical, Reddi-Wip came on board as the only presenting sponsor for the broadcast event. One of the branded spots NBC’s Creative Partnerships set out to produce was a documentary-style piece focused on a public school benefit concert aimed at raising money for the arts. The concert, made up of 30 students from around the Washington, DC area, featured music from The Wiz.
This was not my first job with the NBC Creative Partnerships team. Over the past two years, I’ve directed branded spots for The Voice & Sprint as well as Parenthood & Lowes; however, it was my first time working with Creative Director, Joseph Kanellitsas. After a couple initial meetings & calls, we easily agreed on the look and began zeroing in on the approach for the piece. The biggest challenges were 1) documenting the preparation and performance of an event as it was happening, and 2) incorporating the product in a way that felt authentic and did not trump the true heroes of the spot, the kids and the staff that helped provide this opportunity.
Weeks before we were scheduled to document the event, Project Manager, Mallory Norton and I had a call with Sherion & Shawn Cosby, a mother-daughter team who worked with hundreds of children at multiple schools in the area, providing the extracurricular opportunity to learn musical theater. The call put any concerns I had at rest. Their energy & passion let me know they would be great on-camera, serving as the thread of the piece.
From there, Moving Parts, Inc. Producer, Warren Farnes, began putting together the pieces to make for a smooth shoot. As is often the case with travel jobs, we hire mostly local crew; however, I was able to bring Director of Photography, Byron Shah (with whom I’d shot previous jobs for Esquire Network as well as NBC Sports’ behind-the-scenes for the NFL Sunday Night Football open with Carrie Underwood. What I love about Bryon’s approach is his ability to be a minimalist when necessary. We had a lot to shoot in one day and in multiple spaces throughout the school, so it was necessary to limit how much we were lighting the space. Byron and I both tend to use that limitation as a challenge and seek out the most cinematic ways of capturing a given moment.
There were, of course, instances where extensive lighting was absolutely crucial, and we focused our crew hours on those scenes. The biggest example was the stage performance. There weren’t enough lights on the stage to expose all the kids, so our plan was to have G&E spend the morning setting up a lighting grid above the drop ceiling and light the stage evenly with KinoFlos. While they were doing that, we spent our time capturing natural light scenarios throughout the rest of the school.
I had a great AD on the shoot with whom I shared a list of what was absolutely necessary for us to capture.Not just moments, but specific shots I wanted. But capturing a day as it happens also means you’ve got to be willing to adapt. He was able to keep me on schedule, roll with the punches and give me the freedom to change the game plan on the fly when necessary. I really value having a strong AD on set. There are times I have to do it for myself, so I feel like I have a solid understanding of what he/she is trying to accomplish in helping me make my day. However, releasing that responsibility to an AD allows me the opportunity to focus on the creative and be more present in the moment.
The shoot went incredibly well. The kids were absolutely delightful to work with, and the crew moved so efficiently that I walked away knowing we had the makings of a great spot. I was fortunate to be asked to cut this spot as well, which is very helpful in a shoot like this… I knew exactly where all the moments were because I was there.
I’m very proud of how the spot turned out.
The Huffington Post wrote:
The primary advertisers for “The Wiz,” Reddi-wip, is using the format to its advantage by featuring students from the Excel Academy Public Charter School in Hyattsville, Maryland, a public school for girls, taking a crack at a tune from “The Wiz” that appears in a segment that precedes their spot. The tie-in is flawless, the press has taken notice, and this live musical formal could ultimately become a “Super Bowl” of sorts for the client. Future sponsors could use this to their advantage.
As always, this is the result of the contribution of many. I’m grateful to work with a solid team that provides the resources necessary to tell the story as I see it.
I’m not gonna lie… my husband is a REALLY talented guy.
His lifestyle pieces go beyond honest and thoughtful; they make you want to be there.
It probably stems from from the fact that he truly cares about his subjects (whether it’s a person, a product or a place) and will spend countless hours figuring out the best ways to tell their story (on budget and in time) in a unique way.
That’s why I was thrilled (and thought him the obvious choice) to be tapped as Director for Esquire Network’s MANMADE pieces.
Sharing other artisans’ stories… it’s obviously his passion as he’s created several award-winning shorts as personal projects. Check out his Ahrtuh-zen pieces: Dave Lefner and Jeremy Thomas where he explores the process behind their art and CZAPPA: a discussion about what it takes for one man to be an artist. In each of these pieces, like in MANMADE, the artist and their work helps dictate the story. Layering stills to show linocut in Lefner, using the deliberate pacing of the artisan and his craft in Thomas, and building stop motion segments to honor the builder in CZAPPA.
True, the MANMADE spots were different as each piece had to meet client needs as well as tell the story, but that’s also what makes them so great. To create compelling, creative stories in a quick, commercial environment, now that’s special. Ric is able to help these artisans share their craft and present them all in unique ways – just like the artists they’re portraying.
I know I’m biased. I not only get to see the beautiful end product, but also all the time, care and expertise Ric puts into each project – for the client, the subjects, and the creative team working with him.
…and maybe it’s just me, but I think it shows.
MANMADE: RISING SUN: Brought to you by Esquire Network & Samuel Adams, this sixty second on-air spot features Mike Hodis, owner and designer of Rising Sun & Co, as he discusses the importance of craftsmanship.
MANMADE: DEUS: Brought to you by Esquire Network & Samuel Adams, this sixty second on-air spot features Michael Woolaway, Design Director at Deus Ex Machina, as he discusses the importance of craftsmanship.
MANMADE: WHYRHYMER: Brought to you by Esquire Network & Samuel Adams, this sixty second on-air spot features designer & woodworker, Brandon Morrison, as he discusses the importance of craftsmanship.
Presented by Sam Adams & Esquire Network, these sixty second on-air spots features Michael Woolaway, Design Director at Deus Ex Machina, Mike Hodis, Owner and Designer at Rising Sun Denim and Brandon Morrison, Owner and Craftsman at Whyhymer Furniture, as they discuss the importance of craftsmanship.Directed by Ric SerenaCreative Director/Writer – Patrick CondoProduced by Moving Parts, Inc.Producer: Brett MarxDirector of Photography: Chuck OzeasEdited by Jack Douglas (Rising Sun & Wyhymer) & Ric Serena (Deus)Post Production Sound Mix by John KellyTitles by Chris ArensLocation Sound: Durand Trench
That is the question.
I’ve been in love with visual storytelling for as long as I can remember. I love directing. I love editing. And I love shooting. As my career began shifting from editing to directing, I would often shoot my own projects mostly because I hated asking others to give their time and creative resources up for little to no pay. Kia Kiso, a friend and colleague, helped me get over that mindset, convincing me there were DP’s willing to give their time and resources because they believed in my prospect as a director.
And as my directing career progressed, I was given the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented directors of photography including Tyler Allison, Tim Angulo, Salvador Bolivar, Tom Camarda, Johnny Derango, Chuck Ozeas, Byron Shah, & Jake Zortman. There is nothing like creatively gelling with a DP on set, completely in sync with one another as to the final look of the piece.
I still shoot on my smaller, personal projects, not only for budgetary reasons, but because I like to stay knowledgeable of the photographic process, to better help me communicate with the camera department when I’m on larger jobs.
I recently put together a reel of my camera work to send out on the relatively rare occasions I’m called to shoot. I struggled with what to call the reel. In my opinion, my work and skill sets are nowhere near the DP’s I’ve worked with. My lighting skills are limited as I fancy myself more of a documentary style shooter. Initially, I settled on “Shooter’s Reel,” however, a few of my favorite DP’s responded with the note that it should be listed as my DP reel, even if I’m not necessarily pursuing that path.
I’ve gotta say… that felt nice.
I love shooting. But even more, I love collaborating. They both have their place in the future of my work. I’m certain of it.
On that note… here’s my DP reel:
A collection of footage Ric Serena has shot on a few projects over the years. Music by Matt Bowen http://mattbowenmusic.com
A few nights ago it was movie night at the Serena house. Izzy has been prone to requesting documentaries as of late, so we headed to itunes on Apple TV for a search. Low and behold, MILE… MILE AND A HALF was featured in the top ten docs that day. We joked with her, asking if she wanted to watch #9 on the list. Her response? “NOOOOO. I’ve seen that movie sooo many times.”
Who can blame her? It was enough to be away from us for the month we were on the trail, but we didn’t anticipate the countless hours that would be spent once we decided to pursue making a feature film out of the footage we gathered from the trail. The film was essentially a sibling during her last year of pre-school and first year of Kindergarten. Between the meetings, traveling for screenings, or just discussions between Jen and me around the house, Izzy was impacted by the film.
This film has had a huge impact on our family, and we’re grateful for it.
I met Gabriel in 2013 when my creative partner, Jen Serena, was shooting some promotional stills in the lead up to his Roll Across America. A month later, he would leave Burbank, California and roll his standard wheelchair across the United States. It was his intention to arrive to his hometown in time for his 25th High School Reunion. We had just announced the premiere of our feature-length documentary, Mile… Mile & A Half, so Gabriel was picking my brain about the process of DIY Film Distribution. Accompanying him on his journey would be a small video crew, documenting his journey, so he was keen to learn what challenges might lay ahead after the roll. I enjoyed keeping up with Gabriel during his trek across the US via Facebook. Always inspired, I couldn’t imagine walking, much less rolling across 13 states. Even had he not completed the journey, it would’ve been admirable to make the attempt.
He did make it.
Fast-forward one year later. I’d been directing a few shoots for Esquire Network with the extremely talented Chuck Ozeas as my Director of Photography. I watched as he and his camera department created some beautiful imagery on the Red EPIC, but the camera intimated me. Yes, I love shooting, but the leap from DSLR’s to a camera like the Epic made me a little nervous.
Jen convinced me to rent an Epic for the weekend to get familiar not only with shooting, but shepherding the footage through the post-production workflow. I needed to allow myself the opportunity to say that this was only a test. If I finished the weekend with only one or two great images, I needed to be okay with it. This was only a test.
I reached out to Gabriel to ask if he’d be interested in being an on-camera subject for my test. As it turned out, he was preparing for his next roll and could use some updated imagery. I rented a basic package from ShadowCast Pictures that included a set of Zeiss CP2 primes. Jay and his team were incredibly helpful, and the gear was in wonderful shape. Another friend & filmmaker, Gaston Carrizo, offered his time and equipment for one jib shot. Friend and collaborator, Sheldon Neill of Project Yosemite lent his time and expertise on the Epic, and Durand Trench volunteered his time and talent for the interview portion of the weekend.
I spent plenty of time familiarizing myself with the camera as I built it (reading manuals and forums, calling camera operator friends with any questions I had), and then it was just a matter of following Gabriel through his normal workout regiments. Throughout the day of shooting, I couldn’t help but be blown away by his energy. We were all tired, but there was Gabriel, working twice as hard to accomplish tasks as simple for us as getting out of the car. During our time at the Burbank YMCA, I found myself tiring while in the pool with Gabriel (operating the GoPro underwater which we never used in the final piece), but there he was staying afloat with only his arms. It was a humble reminder of how much I take my health for granted. The Burbank YMCA has been a big supporter of Gabriel and they were very kind to allow us the opportunity to document his workout at the gym.
The piece practically cut itself. Because we didn’t shoot too much material, there weren’t difficult decisions that needed to be made. It was just important to me that Gabriel’s reasons for doing what he does was clearly conveyed and in his voice. I did challenge myself during the edit in that I did not cut to a piece of temp music. I cut the piece entirely without music and asked the insanely talented Paul Bessenbacher of Emoto Music to see what he could come up with. His beautiful score, accompanied with a sound edit and mix by David Barnaby, color timing by Bruce Goodman and graphic design by Chris Kneller, completed a piece that beautifully communicates Gabriel’s passion.
And thanks to Jen Serena… without her confidence in me and strong belief in the power of investing in oneself, this test might never have happened.
Passion projects are good for my soul. They challenge me. They keep me honest. They force me to be ultimately responsible for every decision that ends up on screen. And so it’s these projects that I’m most proud of and want to represent who I am as an artist and storyteller. Two of my short documentaries on artists Dave Lefner & Jeremy Thomas continue to surprise me with the new audiences they’re reaching.
Dave Lefner was chosen to have his work shown in the lobby of the Laemmle Royal Theater in Santa Monica as part of the Laemmle’s Art in the ArtHouse series. For the duration of his three-month exhibition, my trailer for his documentary played in the lobby as well as a preview before their film screenings. And during the opening night event, the full documentary screened in one of their theaters. Dave Lefner’s piece, with music by Quiet Lights, was also selected as one of the Vimeo Staff Picks.
And my piece on New Mexico sculptor, Jeremy Thomas, was invited to screen on the New Mexico PBS arts program, COLORES. In order to air the program, I had to have the film re-scored, so I reached out to friend and collaborator, Matt Bowen, to compose the new soundtrack. Together with percussionist, Jo Pusateri, and engineer, Will Hampton, they breathed new life into the documentary about inflating metal and polished what had been somewhat of an un-finished piece for three years prior.
And both pieces were responsible in my being chosen to direct a series of short documentaries for Esquire Networks. The short pieces, produced by Moving Parts, Inc., will hopefully be released this summer.
Someone once told me that instead of having the single that shoots to the top of the charts, he’d rather be the song that people continue to sing in shower years down the road. I like that thought.
And I like singing in the shower.
As I was submitting my second [ahr-tuh-zen] documentary on Jeremy Thomas to film festivals, I came across The Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles and thought it was a perfect fit for the series flagship on Dave Lefner. Dave is a native Angeleno, and his art is focused on old signage in the Los Angeles area.
The film had been completed nearly two years ago, but I never sent it to any festivals and the DFFLA didn’t have a completion date requirement, so I sent it off. Why not? A week later, I received a phone call that the film was invited to screen during one of their shorts programs.
If ever there were a project I could be proud to say was my first festival screening, it’s this one. I always have so much fun creating my films, but I hate promoting them once they’re complete. Over the past two years, I’ve been getting much better about it, and it’s led to some success with our upcoming feature documentary, MILE… MILE & A HALF.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already seen the mindblowingly beautiful first video from Project Yosemite. The project is a creative collaboration between Sheldon Neill and Colin Delehanty. Yosemite HD has received over 3.5 million views, and the number is growing each day.
Not only are they super talented photographers, but a lot of fun to hike for hours with. And they’re big supporters ofThe Muir Project to boot. They’re working hard to finish their much anticipated follow-up video. Until then, you’ll just have to be content with video #1: