Talent Feature – Have “a Moment in Myanmar” with Brian Lehrer

Talent Feature – Have "a Moment in Myanmar" with Brian Lehrer

As part of our aim to strengthen the connection between us and our readers, we decided to give our talented audience out there a stage to express themselves and share their success stories in our new weekly TALENT FEATURE. We hope that with time, these guest posts will become a source of inspiration to our colleagues wherever they are. If you are interested in participating, Please upload your video to our VIDEOLOG and follow the rest of the submission process by reading the information here(Intro by Johnnie Behiri)

Brian Charles Lehrer is a freelance director, cinematographer and photographer raised in New York, now living in Los Angeles. Since graduating film school, he has directed a Music Video Production Association Award nominated music video and a liquor commercial for El Silencio Mezcal. He has also acted as Director of Photography on numerous projects, including commercials for several start-up brands and Fatburger, as well as music videos and short films. He spent time as a creative director in a start-up production company, where he learned to pitch projects to clients and write copy like his life depended on it.

Recently, he has been also been pursuing photography, focusing on travel and cultural images, with photos featured on National Geographic Travel, Sony Alpha’s official Instagram, and for a gallery in Santa Monica, CA. He edits and produces much of his own work, and colour-corrects as well –  although he’d much rather let other experts handle that business when the budget allows!

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Name: Brian Charles Lehrer

Age: 27

Currently based in: Los Angeles

Language Spoken: English, and a pathetic smattering of words from the places I’ve traveled (Japan, France, etc.)

Occupation: Freelance director, director of photography and photographer

How did you get started in our industry? I’ve been playing with cameras since I was kid, trying to weave together little stories and skate videos with my friends on an old Hi8 camcorder (remember Hi8?!). 

In high school, I really focused on my craft, eventually attending the USC School of Cinematic Arts from 2007 – 2011.  My first professional work was producing music videos – I gained valuable experience in putting a production together, while confirming that I don’t have the mental fortitude to be a full-time producer. Pivoting my career, I worked as a colourist on several commercials and music videos while I gradually transitioned back to my passions in this industry, which have always been cinematography and directing.

Current assignments: I am currently in post-production on a fashion film for a new menswear line, called ARCADY. It’s a myth-inspired epic little piece that I directed and edited with a friend. It’s one of the few projects that I haven’t shot myself, as we were lucky to work with an awesome agency-repped cinematographer. 

What types of productions do you mostly shoot? It really runs a wide gamut, but typically I work on small-scale commercials and branded content, as well as the occasional music video and short film. Recently, I’ve also begun dabbling in photography as well, both personally and professionally.

What is your dream assignment / job in our industry and what are you really passionate about? Obviously, I’d love to direct or shoot a great TV show or film. But for the foreseeable future, I really hope to work on some potent commercials or music videos that embrace epic visuals, yet resonate intimately on an emotional level. 

I am happy to pursue those kinds of projects as either a director or director of photography working with other directors. I would also drool for a chance to travel the world, shooting for a respected publication like National Geographic.

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In the work that you are presenting to us, now that it is done, what would you have done differently? Hindsight is always 20/20, right? I had never shot this kind of travel video before in earnest, and I didn’t quite know what I was getting into. Broadly, I wish I had taken more time to make sure I got the shots I wanted without any operator error, and I really wish I had been a bit braver about diving into situations and getting closer to strangers. As my trip neared its end, I got more confident in this respect, but next time I would definitely be more outgoing from the get go, so as to form more personal connections with locals and translate that to the footage. Technically, although I was trying to wear as little gear as possible, I really wish I had brought a one-handed gimbal like a Came-TV Single. I love tracking, steadicam-type shots… And there I was trying to replicate that with only a measly camera strap for stabilization. 

I did use Adobe’s Warp Stabilizer effect to smooth out some wrinkles, but that can also introduce nasty artifacts and wobble so it wasn’t a magic solution for every shot. 

Lastly – I’m sure I could have edited down the final cut to a shorter runtime, but I had paying work on the horizon and at a certain point just had to call it a day!

What current camera, lenses and sound equipment do you use? On bigger jobs, I try to secure an Arri Alexa (or Mini), Sony F55, or sometimes Red Epic from the production. I generally prefer the Alexa whenever budget allows: it just works, and the image it produces is refined without introducing any colour-science quirks. 

On smaller projects, I often use my personal Sony A7R II and other cameras like Sony F5/7S, etc. 

Everyone uses the A7S, but if you look really closely at tests like those you conducted, the R II has some benefits over the S II, like better rolling shutter in full-frame, and a more useful base ISO.  

Meanwhile, it gets the same image quality as the S in most situations, and allows for the insane quality in stills. The only real downsides are a little less low-light sensitivity and lower-quality 120fps slow-mo. 

My choice in lenses really varies depending on the project. For larger productions, I’ve like Zeiss Superspeeds or Standards, old Cooke S2/3 Panchros, Kowa Anamorphics, and Fuji Cabrio zooms. For personal or smaller work, I own a pair of Canon L-series zooms, and some Sony / Zeiss primes, including a lovely 35mm F2 Zeiss Loxia all-manual lens. 

As “A MOMENT IN MYANMAR” was a personal project made while on vacation, I was trying to keep as low a profile as possible (and not bother my girlfriend too much!). So, I used my Sony A7R II and mainly the Sony Zeiss FE 24-70 F4 lens. 

It’s not the best piece of glass out there, but it’s flexible and, most importantly, small. I also carried the Zeiss 35mm F2 Loxia and Sony FE F1.8 55mm, using those occasionally for their more interesting characteristics, or when I needed more sturdy manual focus.

When not on the go, I try to use my L-series zooms with my Sony A7R II with a Metabones SpeedBooster – in the A7R II’s excellent quality APS-C crop mode, this gives you an equivalent F2.0 24-70mm zoom which is pretty stellar. 

I rarely do my own sound recording, but I do have a Zoom H4N recorder (I don’t recommend it) and a Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic (which I highly recommend), plus a little Rode Video Mic Pro to throw on my Sony A7R II when required. 

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What is your favorite light equipment and why did you choose that kit over other solutions? It really depends on the job – for “A MOMENT IN MYANMAR”, obviously I used entirely available light, hopping from temple to temple, etc.

On sizable productions, I use a wide assortment of tools – but I often employ Joker or similar HMIs, usually punched through large grid cloth or bounced against muslin or Ultrabounce. 

The Joker-Bug 800w and 1600w are flexible and remarkably powerful lights that can serve several purposes, while running on a normal circuit. They have a ton of punch, but they are also easy to set up with a softbox and create beautiful gentle light sources that imitate open windows, etc. I also use a lot of Kino Flo Divas or 4x4s, as they’re a classic multi-purpose soft light that’s easy to use wherever. Though recently, I’ve been trying to incorporate more LEDs as replacements. 

I’ve really been itching to use LiteGear’s LiteMats, but haven’t had an opportunity yet. I’ve heard great things from fellow DPs and their low-profile design is great for attaching to ceilings or against walls. 

Do you use drones / gimbals in your productions? If yes, what is the most effect reason why you’ve found in deploying them? I’ve only had one project with a drone, and a qualified owner/operator was the man doing the piloting, but they are amazing tools to grab aerials or chase cars around. In this case, it was a commercial for a car cleaning product company, and we had some pretty epic shots chasing a truck and several drift cars through the open desert. 

As for gimbals: they are really incredible pieces of tech, and I used a Movi recently on a music video I DP’d. 

However, when budget, crew and time allows, I really like to employ a steadicam and operator instead, as I find they have a somewhat more polished look to the movement. 

Now, you can outfit a gimbal with all sorts of accessories (like a Serene Arm and EasyRig as I did on the music video), but it ends up kinda ungainly, and not much more convenient than using a steadicam rig.

That being said – I am not trained to operate a Steadicam myself, so I would love to own a small gimbal like a Ronin M or even a one-handed Came-TV model for gigs that don’t have much or any crew. 

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What editing systems do you use? I edit on Adobe Premiere Pro, and have been a loyal user for years, despite a brief affair with Final Cut Pro 7. I use my maxed-out Retina Macbook Pro (with plenty of external Thunderbolt RAIDs), but to be honest my laptop is almost kaput. It’s extremely frustrating – the puny graphics card is constantly overheating and failing, so I’m trying to wait out any updates from Apple and maybe upgrade to an iMac or Mac Pro for editing purposes. 

How much of your work do you shoot in Log and what is your preferred way of colour correcting? I almost exclusively shoot in Log or Raw. Since I have trained and worked as a colourist, it’s imperative to me to have the best digital “negative” possible for colour-correction. On projects with no budget for a colourist, I just do the job myself (which is very often!) It takes a day or so, but I don’t typically work on projects requiring immediate delivery of content.

My methods of colour-correcting vary: I use DaVinci Resolve (the free version) often, as well as Adobe’s new built-in Lumetri system for smaller projects. I often use a base LUT to colour-grade around and underneath, especially with the trickier Sony camera colour, but I rarely use a LUT with a heavy “look” to it. Typically, I go with standard Log to Rec709 or P3 LUTs to get the footage in the right region, and then go from there.

On “A MOMENT IN MYANMAR”, I used a very subtle Sony-provided S-Log2 to Log709 Color LUT that still preserves the S-Log low contrast, only affecting the color values. I then graded from there to taste. However, I am increasingly experimenting with film emulation LUTs like those from Koji and VisionColor – where I apply a subtle Kodak or Fuji emulation LUT and grade further from there. 

I own a Flanders Scientific 17” colour-accurate calibrated monitor (which I also bring to set), and a single Tangent Element trackball panel I use when grading.

How frequently are you traveling and do you have any tips when it comes to packing your gear? I have been traveling a lot recently! Often with my girlfriend who travels a lot for work, and I take photos. 

Since November, we’ve been to Thailand, Myanmar, Japan, Mexico, the Philippines, and soon Italy! It’s been wild and I feel incredibly lucky. My thoughts on packing gear: bring as much as possible (hopefully all of it) onboard with you.  You can keep an eye on it, and it’s way less likely to be lost or damaged. I always wrap lenses and other fragile components carefully in soft pouches, and try to keep them away from any liquids with plastic bags. For my A7R II, I not only bring a battery charger or two, but also a big USB phone battery. If you run out of batteries, you can plug it right into the camera and use that in a pinch for power. For run and gun work like “A MOMENT IN MYANMAR” I try to take as little gear with me as possible when leaving the hotel. The less you carry, the more flexible, agile and adventurous you can be. 

Too much gear can steal away the magic, and reduce spontaneity. This is the very reason I traded in my Canon 5D for the A7R II, not because of it’s better specs, but mainly because it was smaller and lighter!

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If you want to learn more about Brian creative’s work, head over to his homepage.

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