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Matinee: 'The Camera' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 October 2016

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 159th in our series of Saturday matinees today: The Camera by Peter Lewis.

This nearly eight-minute short film was made five years ago by Peter Lewis, who pays his bills these days as a product designer and design strategist in Washington, D.C. You'll also find him on Medium, where he writes about design and publishes a poem now and then too.

So it is probably no accident The Camera is something like a visual poem. We won't spoil your enjoyment of it by revealing the rhyming pairs. It's short enough to simply watch it.

But then you'll have all sorts of questions about it, so we thought we'd provide a little background information to save you any gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands.

Lewis has said this was his first real film project, which he undertook to find out if he was any good at it. He was not out to win the Nobel Prize in Folk Music, in short.

So he lived within his means. Which was to shoot the whole thing during a one-week vacation in Nags Head, N.C. with a budget so low it didn't have a number. In the end, it amounted to a cash outlay of $50, mainly for props.

We leave it to the audience to imagine for a second what difference using a digital camera instead of a Polaroid might have made.

It helped that he owned a Canon Rebel T2i and some lenses. On the post production front, he had Logic Pro for audio and used a free 30-day trial of Final Cut Pro X to put everything together. He'd started editing the film with iMovie but he found it couldn't handle the 1080p video.

Lewis didn't have any audio recording equipment (or any dialog or enough actors to have a dialog, for that matter). So he envisioned The Camera as a music video without words. He didn't like the results of that in post, though. "It felt lifeless," he wrote on a Behance essay) about the project. So he added sound effects, including some custom foley effects.

He'd brought home some sand and beach grass to create the foley effects in his basement. They included footsteps, rustling grass, camera shutters and other details. If you haven't seen the film yet, forget we told you that.

The opening shots are behind Jockey's Ridge, the largest natural sand dune on the east coast. The interiors were done in the family's old vacation home although Lewis used a neighbor's less-cluttered house for the exterior shot of the property.

Those opening shots were done on one evening and the last shots were put in the can on his very last day of vacation. He shot the indoor scenes during the early afternoon when the mid-day sunlight helped light up the dark interiors.

The actress is his sister Abbie. She isn't the Emily the film is dedicated to, though. Emily was a family friend who passed away while the film was in post production.

And that camera is a Polaroid Sun 600. Lewis said he bought film for it from a factory in Europe. We're guessing it was the Impossible Project, which had bought Polaroid film machines in Europe after the factory closed in 2008. We leave it to the audience to imagine for a second what difference using a digital camera instead of a Polaroid might have made.

"One of my hopes," he said in an interview with Lights Film School about the movie, "was that it would inspire other artists to just try and finish their ideas; take the step and see what happens. You might not 'make it,' but you'll learn something and that's worth it."

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