Posts in Category: personal

CZAPPA: TV Repairman and Artist

In the ten years we’ve lived in Burbank, California, I must have passed ARC TV & Repair over one hundred times.  The handful of art pieces in the front window always caught my attention, but I assumed the artist was a friend of the shop owner.
After Jen wrapped up her HOMEGROWN photography project, showcasing small business owners in Burbank, she received a phone call from Bill Czappa, owner of ARC TV & Repair, asking if he could be included in her next round of photography.  She returned to our office after shooting with him and urged me to meet him and consider shooting another [ahr-tuh-zen] project installment on him.
I didn’t have lofty expectations for the end product when I made the commitment to shoot a short piece on him, mostly because I didn’t know how much time I would be able to commit.  However, during my first b-roll shoot with Bill at his garage studio, we got to talking unofficially (I didn’t have location audio with me that day because I hadn’t intended to shoot interviews), and Bill mentioned that he’d always thought Van Gogh had it easy compared to some artists, including himself.  With this passing comment it became very clear the direction and tone the documentary would take.  I was hooked.
In the month that followed, I spent a few hours here and there with Bill. At his garage studio. At his repair shop/gallery. For one of Bill’s recounts about a gallery experience, I wanted to come up with a clever way to visually tell the story.  His retelling was lengthy and required quite a bit of trimming to make it fit.  Because I only shot his interview with one camera, I didn’t have the luxury of a second camera to cut away to.  In addition, I felt like cutting to random b-roll during this story felt unmotivated.  So I took a cue from Bill and decided to use a “different material” than video to tell the story.  I decided to tackle stop-motion animation for the first time in years.  With our awesome intern, Odessa, we cut characters and shapes out of construction paper and created a rudimentary animated sequence to accompany Bill’s humorous art gallery story.
There is nothing like watching an animated sequence come to life.  The icing on the cake was hearing the sound design from my long-time collaborator, Durand Trench of Sasquatch Sound.  All of us were in his office laughing like children.  I have a feeling it won’t be our last animation.
The next step was a crucial one and somewhat fortuitous.  I had been editing the film with no music.  It’s been an exercise of mine recently as I try to avoid temp love (the notion that some producers/directors/editors fall in love with their temporary score so much that they’re unable to appreciate the novelty of an original composition), and I wanted to provide the composer an opportunity to come at it with a fresh perspective.  For this project, I asked Paul Bessenbacher (PB) of Emoto Music to consider scoring the film and gave him the first right of refusal.
Near the end of my picture edit, PB released a track from his then forth-coming solo piano album titled, Equilibrium.  On a whim, I played the track against a section of the film and was blow away.  Everything worked.  Timing.  Tone.  Moments.  PB had independently and coincidentally created the perfect piece for a film he’d never seen.  From there, PB provided some of his other existing tracks for me to place against my sequence to help him determine the tone I was going after.  I was willing to forsake my exercise at the request of the composer, especially considering it was his music.  Eventually, he composed an original score that differed significantly from the temp music he’d provided earlier (save that initial piano track, Bloom, which we both felt was perfect for the film).  I will admit I had a brief moment of temp love the first night, but it only required one more listen of the new score to appreciate the creative approach and cohesiveness it brought to the film.  The musical collaborative process is one of my favorites in filmmaking, and I’m fortunate to work such talented composers like PB.
We went back to Bill’s garage studio to record some additional sound effects for the soundscape of the film, and from there Durand tackled the mix.  This was his first mix for a theatrical setting, and he nailed it.  Sidney Lumet wrote he hated the mix process.  I’d have to disagree with him.
Passion projects can be a bit tricky.  There is a balance you must strike between making something the best you can make it and respecting the  time of your creative collaborators.    At the end of the day, you want have something you all can be proud of.  I think CZAPPA is a prime example of achieving that goal.

  • SCI 21015 01_BillCzappa-0038-Edit
  • IMG_9731
  • SCI 21015 01_BillCzappa-0061
  • IMG_9520
  • SCI 21015 01_BillCzappa-0105
  • SCI 2015 CzappaBTS1
  • SCI 21015 01_BillCzappa-0026


Intern Wrap-Up

We were so sad to see Odessa go, and just as choked up when she sent in this blog post.  Wishing her HUGE success in whatever she tackles in life.

A few words to remember her by…

Over the past four months I’ve been interning with Jen at Ric at Serena Creative. During this time I’ve learned a lot about different aspects of film and photography. During my first few weeks here I was able to go on set for a Survivor Promo shoot with Ric. I also spent a great deal of time working on a documentary. This was where I learned the most of filming and production on a smaller scale. I was able to spend a lot of time with Ric watching him work and learning from how he went about executing this project. It was great to be able to work so closely with someone who’s very talented and knowledgeable.

Ric and I also worked on a short animation. I had never done anything like that before and it was cool to see the process. It was also fun to figure out how to make it fit into the film. Problem solving is something that I enjoy and being able to partner on this and work to create something that turned out really well was awesome. I also find that a lot of film and photography requires creative problem solving and this challenge is really fun.

I was also able to assist Jen on a ton of photo shoots. We shot out on the trails of Griffith Park, in more urban locations around LA, in studio, and on location at a corporation. I got to see how Jen worked in all these different situations and how to think outside of the box. We were able to get shots that were unique even on location without any props. Jen’s eye picks up on all the cool things around her and knows how to translate it into an awesome photo. The time I was able to spend with her taught me a lot about how to look at things but also how to be practical and efficient.

I spent a lot of time on the production side of things, but I also got to do a lot of work in pre-production. One of my big tasks was working on researching things from potential sponsors for projects to other companies in the industry. This was a really important skill to learn because it taught me how to be organized and build a project from the ground up.

To round things out, I also did some post-production work and assisted Ric with editing. I learned some of the basics of using avid and feel more comfortable approaching a picture editing project now.

Overall, my experience interning at Serena Creative was AWESOME! I learned a lot and had a ton of fun. Jen and Ric taught me a lot and made sure I got what I wanted out of the experience. They are by far the best people to work with and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.


Why I Love our Water-Wise Garden

For nearly a decade, we’ve lived in our home in Burbank, and I did the bare minimum in the front yard – concentrating my gardening in the back. Now that we’ve landscaped to create a water-wise garden, I’m in the front all of the time.

It flows with the Spanish-style of the home, it’s the right choice for the environment, AND it attracts the most welcome visitors.

Here are just a few few photos of our new friends we took last weekend. Just in time for an Earth Day celebration



To DP or not to DP.

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 AllisonTim AnguloSalvador BolivarTom CamardaJohnny DerangoChuck OzeasByron 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




We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

- George Bernard Shaw

The Other Director(s)

It’s often said that there are two kinds of directors: The actor’s director and the technical director. Because I started as an editor, I come by the latter description honestly.  I feel most comfortable on set in a technical capacity, knowing what I need in order to construct the story in the edit room. And while I’ve come a long way in the past 2-3 years of directing, the early years were fraught with uncertainty as to how to talk to the actors.


That’s why it’s always fun for me to edit for other directors even as I’m pursuing a directing career of my own. Not only do I love editing and fully intend to hone the craft in the years to come, it allows me the opportunity to see and hear his or her directing styles… what works, what doesn’t work.


I recently edited some commercial spots for the directing team, The Clyde Brothers. The spots were incredibly easy to cut because A) they’re talented and B) they made sure to get plenty of coverage.  Editing the spots ultimately came down to having fun with the variety of performances by the main actor from one take to another. Our time together in the edit room was mostly spent finessing the edits to what we all thought the agency would want to see, while still holding firm on their creative decisions.


And what’s the beauty of working with an editor who also directs?  Since I’ve been directing more frequently, I’m certainly more understanding of the challenges of production and why we may not have “that shot.”


Watch the 5 finished spots here


HoMEGRoWN: Romancing the Bean

Special thanks to Kerry Krull for hosting the HoMEGRoWN exhibit at Romancing the Bean. You can check it out at 3413 W. Magnolia Blvd. Burbank, CA 91505


In her honor, we begin sharing the individual small business stories, environmental portraits and conceptual commercial photos there.

When we first moved to Burbank, Romancing the Bean was a small shop on Magnolia. Kerry’s loyal clientele, fueled by great coffee, atmosphere and customer service, prompted her to open a larger shop in the media district. When the rent became too high, we were afraid we’d lost this Burbank staple. Lucky for old and new comers, Kerry has revived the place on Magnolia in an airy and welcoming space sure to keep the lines long.

I was honored when she agreed to be a part of the project, even if she didn’t exactly know what she was getting into.

  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-113-Edit
  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-092-Edit
  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-088-Edit
  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-061-Edit
  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-049-Edit
  • SCI+2014+04_Kerry-025-Edit

This conceptual image was one of the fastest to come to me… how else to describe Romancing the Bean, than with a couple spooning in a bed of coffee beans?


PHOTOGRAPHER:  Jen Serena, Serena Creative

MODELS:  Elle Jane Hounsell &  Chris Pavlik

HAIR & MAKEUP:  Alexandria Storm & Miss Cassanova

WARDROBE STYLING:  Drelyn, Beyond Image


Learn more about the HoMEGRoWN project here.

HoMEGRoWN: Juxtaposing intimate portraits of 11 small business owners and conceptual, commercial images of their product or service, local photographer Jen Serena shares her view of Burbank with a nod to its creative role in the big picture.

Sometimes you just have to LIVEN things up…

Happy Halloween from our Lawn Zombie to you.

  • halloween
  • halloween 2
  • halloween 3
  • halloween 4
  • halloween 5
  • halloween 6
  • halloween 7
  • halloween 8
  • halloween 9
  • halloween 10
  • halloween 11
  • halloween 12

A Family Movie


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.

isola drawing


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.