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PRACTICAL makes work that is the culmination of cameras, research, travel, sketchbooks, sleep, screen time, and running wild.

Best of 2017

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At the turn of the new year, we slow down and reflect on the past 12 months. Looking at it now, it's surprising to see how many projects we did, how much has happened, and how many big events we've started taking for granted that are, in fact, very new developments.

In 2017 Practical officially expanded from Traverse City to Grand Rapids and opened up an office downtown. We worked on a plethora of large, small, medium, and oddly shaped shoots. We produced two music videos, and came within inches of finishing a short film (announcement coming on that soon!).  Our team grew, it changed, and the list of people we really like working with got a lot longer.  It's been a great year, but also a growing year.

This year has been all about people. Meeting new friends in a new city and savoring the relationships that keep us loving Northern Michigan. We are incredibly thankful to do what we do and for the support of those around us. We look forward to the new clients, crew, talent, and non-stop adventures 2018 will bring us. 

But enough talk, here are our favorite images of some places, faces, spaces captured in last 12 months of chaos and collaboration. Thanks for being here. 

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See you in 2018!

 
 

This Is How We Play

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Written by Paul Genzink - Project Release - November 14, 2017

 

When a project wraps, I'm always left with this excitement to jump into the edit suite and get an edit together to show the team and the client, probably before it’s wise to do so. Even with meticulous pre-production, storyboards, and demo edits, rushing through the post process isn't guaranteed to do favors for the end product.

What we noticed when putting together our latest commercial for Turtle Creek and Leelanau Sands Casinos is that when we began sorting through the footage and assembling a cut, the edit began to take on a life of its own. Shots we captured spur-the-moment were upstaging a lot of the shots that were planned. Many captured moments didn't time out in real life like they had in the demo edits, and the editing suite became a den of creative problem solving.

 

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Don’t get me wrong, the problem solving required wasn't a bad thing at all. It’s a beautiful part of the production process. It’s important to remain flexible, open to criticism and diligent to ensure that this altered direction remains in line with the projects greatest potential and what you, your team, and the client expects.

 

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What happened next was a revisiting of the script before we sent it off to the voiceover talent, nitpicking each word or line for content, timing, and emotional impact. It became a giant puzzle. Luckily we love puzzles. This, in turn, altered our direction for music and even sound design. Our motto became “I know we said this before, but ignore that, this is what we need now."

 

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In the end, we delivered a product that both we and the client were proud of, albeit four months after completing principal photography. Sometimes the best thing for a project is time. Sometimes not, but this had time to evolve, time to grow, and time to show its face; the important thing I want to remember from this is to be open to the opportunity to create something better than you initially imagined, even if it means slowing the approach to the finish line.

 

 

Just Getting By

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written by Paul Genzink  -  Project Release  -  October 31, 2017

 

 

It was my first week at Practical and found myself in the backseat on a 2.5 hour car ride. It was here that I listened to Joshua Davis’ song Just Getting By for the very first time. Immediately my head flooded with a variety of images; concepts began forming and my excitement level grew. The song, heavily influenced by memories of the past and of simpler times, transported me to my childhood, one filled with imagination, creativity, and play.

 

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In an early pitch, JohnPaul Morris showed me a photo of a young boy jumping on a bed. The content of the photo, the composition and the execution of the photographer created an emotional response for him and myself and it served as a north star for us as we pursued our options for each vignette we would film.

 

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One challenge that we faced with this piece was creating something simple but not something obvious. The narrative tone of Josh’s lyrics already communicate a beautiful story and we wanted to create a similar tone, visually, without being redundant. We entered into a balancing act of sorts, keeping in mind the emotional response we wanted to achieve while remaining close, but not too close, to the character of the song.

 

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We spent a few summer nights driving around, dragging friends along, and redecorating our own living rooms to capture the images that we needed for this piece.

 

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What made this process truly enjoyable for me was being given the opportunity to revisit my childhood creativity. To remember how I lived in a state of wonder and make believe and to be able to recreate those moments on camera is the very reason that I decided to get into filmmaking, and continues to remind this.

 

 

Odyssey

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written by JohnPaul Morris  -  Project Release  -  October 28, 2017

 
 

Creatively, we're always searching for a starting point. That's true with any project, but especially with a music video since the options initially seem endless. It's often helpful to first establish what can't be done. Like putting together a puzzle where you'd start with the edge pieces and build a frame to work within, we establish constraints that you can build inward from. It limits your options and narrows your focus.

Our biggest constraint with Odyssey was time. We were already in the middle of preproduction for our most ambitious project of 2017 and the band would be gone on a 70 day tour by the time it was done. It had to be pitched, planned, and filmed in a matter of weeks. It's easy to think about what made this project intimidating, but looking back, I'm more interested in what allowed it to be possible. We trusted each other's strengths.

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The Accidental's are a deep well of talent and resources. They should not be underestimated as musicians, as people, or as creatives. It became clear quickly that we could trust them, their label, and their managers. We had co-director's on Odyssey, Paul Genzink and myself. I normally wouldn't recommend it, but because the project was so performance based it allowed us both to be more hands on with set construction and cinematography. Katie Fox-Webb, who produced Odyssey, also did the majority of our art and production design. We played to our strengths and kept it simple.

The Accidental's are, possibly first and foremost, hard workers. The hours, effort, and ethic they put into their art was immediately apparent. I didn't realize how attached we'd become to everyone on the set over such a short production, but we did. The summer and fall have been exhausting for us as a team. Our boundaries and limitations have never been clearer to us. But within that, I'm really proud of how everyone played to their strengths, worked smart, worked hard, kept working, and at the end of it made a really cool vid. We were excited to see an in depth HuffPost Article on the project.

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The work didn't end with production. The editing process was left fairly open ended and Dustin Foster at Chop & Hue in Grand Rapids took over editing for us and worked late nights and early mornings to bring the final piece together. Without them, we wouldn't have been able to make Odyssey happen. That's the main reason Practical opened a second office in Grand Rapids this spring, to create the opportunity for more collaboration. So thank you to everyone involved, including the hundreds of extras who got rained on, waded out into lakes, survived the smoke, and helped us create spaces that didn't exist before.

 
 
 

Pushing

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written by Paul Genzink  -  Project Release  -  July 18, 2017

 
 

Post shoot errands are kind of my favorite. I’m an introvert, so the time alone after a week on set feels like heaven. While returning gear to rental houses, I started thinking about all the things we had just accomplished.

When writing the script there was always this tiny shred of doubt in my mind about being able to pull off filming scenes that will amount to literally a half-second the final edit. Things like someone sailing, or a rock climbing scene that requires a camera mounted at the top of a wall, or a young couple demoing their kitchen. When considering the work it takes to find the right people to fill roles, logistics for work like this, and not to mention the insurance and legal ramifications, it’s hard to resist the voice in your head that says, “this sounds kind of tough to pull off, you know what would be easier and probably still on message? [fill in the blank].”

Ironically enough I kept reminding myself of the words in the script that I had written: “It’s better to try and fail than not try at all.” Granted, I’m ripping off an old saying, but it served as a wonderful reminder throughout this process.

 
 
 
 

Pushing past the doubt, even when it’s based on a small slice of reality, is what helps me grow not only as a director but as a person as well. It’s really an exercise in trusting the team you’re surrounded by and your cumulative networks. If you never try, you’ll never know what you’re capable of, and if you never reach out, you’ll never know which one of your friends is friends with the guy who owns both rock climbing facilities in town and puts in a good word for you.

There were so many times during this process that I was ready to compromise my creative integrity because the puzzle pieces weren’t falling into place in an organized fashion. But I didn’t, we didn’t. Our team bought into the vision and worked their butts off and we came out the other side with only a few bruises.

And it worked.

 
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Armor Express, Michael Schuyler Reenactment

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written by Jake Burgess  -  Project Release  -  May 25, 2017

 
 

Now that we’re reaching the warm days of May and my fingers have officially thawed, it’s easy to cheerfully look back on our frigid December night shoot.

As a long time editor at Practical, I’ve seen more than my fair share of Armor Express footage. Every frame creates a new level of respect and appreciation for what they do, and sheds light on those who selflessly put themselves in harm's way to serve and protect. After seeing so much of that through a screen, it’s a truly humbling experience to meet the individuals in question. People like Michael Schuyler, who survived multiple shots. That was the story the Practical team got to tell.

 
 

This was a unique shoot. We were pressed for time (the least unique thing about any shoot), pressed for warmth, and were drowning in snowfall. After wrapping the RED Epic and a brand new lens in a state of the art protective housing (featured below), we decided to get our coverage through a series of one takes. This meant filming the entirety of the event in every take. This was chaotic, but efficient.

To answer your question, yes. That is a plastic bag.

Now onto the part I’m supposed to talk about - editing. As I mentioned before, our coverage consisted of a series of long shots covering the entire action. As an editor, this was a unique experience for me and presented its own set of challenges. Namely, inconsistent snow fall throughout. Some shots looked like they were taken straight from a snow globe, others looked like an icy tundra. We also had a series of shots containing crew members, who we had tucked away firing off camera flashes to get interactive complex lighting to justify the muzzle flares. Rather than lose very compelling shots for the sake of ease, in the middle of post production I decided to fix it all in post.

This is where things got tricky, and this is where things get sort of technical. We shot nearly everything handheld, which meant lots of motion tracking. We had police lights flashing, which meant emulating complex lighting. The crew member (hereafter referred to as The Flasher) was interacting with multiple planes - the ground and the background behind him, which meant multiplanar compositing. Our actors were moving around in the foreground, passing between the camera and The Flasher, which calls for lots of rotoscoping. And possibly the toughest part, there was heavy snowfall throughout. This throws off the motion tracking software, it also means the snow has to be composited back in over any CG elements. Simply put, it was hard, and I like to complain.

In closing, this was all an incredible experience. Every challenge made me adapt and learn something new, and the final product is something I’m truly proud of. And that’s the goal, isn’t it?