October 21st, 2010

A Few Minutes With Vimeo Festival + Awards Best of Show Winner Eliot Rausch

Posted By Neil Matsumoto

Vimeo Festival + Awards winner, Eliot Rausch

Vimeo recently held its inaugural Vimeo Festival + Awards to showcase some of the most creative videos of the web. The festival took place October 8th and 9th at the IAC Headquarter building, the SVA Theater and Drive In Studios, all located in New York City. The festival included an impressive panel of judges, which included pop star M.I.A. and filmmakers David Lynch, Roman Coppola, Morgan Spurlock, and several others. Taking the award for Best Video was the documentary short, Last Minutes with Oden, directed by Eliot Rausch, who was also awarded a grant of $25,000 to make a new film.

Rausch’s film tells the story of the final few hours of Oden, a saintly dog who is dying of cancer but still continues to help his owner, Jason Wood, counsel people suffering from substance abuse. The story is told from the perspective of Wood, who makes the tough yet humane decision in euthanizing his beloved pet and companion. The beautiful and emotional six-minute film was shot with two Canon 7D HD DSLRs by cameramen Luke Korver and Matt Taylor.

Hailing from the South Bay in Southern California, Rausch got his start working in advertising and eventually moved into editing with an impressive client base that included Fuel TV, Fox, and NBC, as well as brands such as Boost Mobile, Bud Light. He recently signed as a commercial director and is currently working on spots for Gold’s Gym. With little free time, Rausch still manages to balance his work schedule with his personal documentary projects.

I recently spoke by phone with Rausch about Last Minutes with Oden, working with HD DSLR cameras, and the power of Internet video.

HDVIDEOPRO: How did you get involved with Last Minutes with Oden?

ELIOT RAUSCH: Jason Woods has been a dear friend of mine for about five years. He’s sort of “a man of the street” and at the time, I was going through a hard time in my life. No one could get into my personal space and Jason sort of invaded it and sort of showed me a part of life that I never understood. Even though he doesn’t like it, I call him the “Mother Teresa of Long Beach” because this guy helps all the marginalized and forgotten people of the world but has nothing for himself. I sort of fell in love with him as a character and started shooting him and his friends. We released a little thing called Five Hours with Woody about two or three years ago and that sort of exploded. Since then we’ve been shooting Jason’s life and several other lives he’s connected to for a larger body of work called Eight Lives.

One night Jason called me and said that he was putting Oden down. I was familiar with the dog—he was sort of his counterpart in a lot of ways. Jason would literally put up in his house and then take care of the heroin or speed addicts that were trying to kick their drug addiction. He told me they were going to put the dog down and I said, “Jay, I don’t know what else to do besides come in with cameras and continue to shoot this thing and just see what happens.” The cameramen [Luke Korver and Matt Taylor] and everyone else that I brought into that environment were profoundly affected by everything that transpired that day. I went home that night and edited it together in four hours and had a very cathartic release. After I bawled my eyes out, I just said, “Screw it, I’m just going to throw this up on Vimeo and see if there will be any conversation or dialogue.” I wanted to get a sense of whether or not this was an amazing story or just some crazy dude that I’m in love with.

Jason Woods

HDVP: What kind of equipment did you use?

RAUSCH: We came in with two [Canon] 7D cameras. Both of the DPs were accustomed to using [Panasonic HPX170 camcorder] HPX arrangements and working in the industry on a higher caliber level but they had recently been experimenting with the 7Ds. I think we had a decent lens package, including a 50mm and a couple of other lenses that they interchanged throughout the production. For the audio of the interview I took of Jason that we strung throughout the film, it was an HPX that we hid behind the couch and then we wirelessly lav’d him. At the time, we didn’t have a JuicedLink or any other audio arrangements for the DSLR.

HDVP: Did you use the same audio solution while they were putting Oden down?

RAUSCH: No, the sound was actually straight from the DSLR. No shotgun or anything, which is sort of a miracle to us, although there’s definitely a bit of a hiss and a buzz you’ll hear. One thing that nobody notices is that I scored the film with a lot of ambient noise and tried to match the camera sound at different moments—whether there was a light wind or a watered street—just to glue it all together.

HDVP: What do you think the most difficult aspect in shooting with HD DSLRs is?

RAUSCH: I think the cameras are very user friendly and everyone is sort of obsessed with them right now because they’re so cheap. It also looks like film and you’re capable of having deep intimacy with your subjects—instead of having what looks like a bazooka on your shoulder. I would say the problem is that you still get, at times, that Jell-O effect—sort of a fishbowl look to it. There’s also depth of field that’s almost so grotesque that we’re all sort of tainted now. We go on Vimeo and see this 7D footage and it has such a certain look that you now are engaged with the fact that it’s this young filmmaker rather than a beautiful film.

HDVP: You probably captured one of the most emotional and intimate scenes a person can go through? Can you expand on how the camera system helped you in the process of making your subjects feel more comfortable in a difficult situation?

RAUSCH: I think they were essential. In the commercial world, the thing I’ve been pitching is we now have the ability, as filmmakers to get even closer to our subjects and create scenarios that originally seemed too big or intimidating. There’s a clearer sense of transparency and a willingness to be exposed. For my films, I try and develop deep relationships with my subjects months before a production. For another documentary I did—Penny’s Heart—not only did we shoot with a family for six months but about five months previous to that, we developed a very strong rapport.

HDVP: What sort of post work did you do on the film and how did the 7D’s compressed H.264 files hold up?

RAUSCH: We edited on Final Cut Pro and did very minimal color correction. There were a couple of shots that were a little hot and I just took down the mids and that was really it. The process for me was a ProRes conversion from H.264 and then a 24fps batch pass with Cinema Tools. Within the color correction, I would say the files definitely held up but I would say the one part that didn’t was that wobble or fishbowl effect, especially with some of the footage shot outside. I definitely cut around that stuff, although now I think there are some plug-ins and tools that can help a consumer fix some of that.

Oden

HDVP: Did you submit the film to any other film festivals?

RAUSCH: It was a bit of a predicament. We had been approached by like 50 or 60 film festivals in the past nine months. Literally a week after we uploaded the film, everyone from Australia to London started asking for the film and we’ve been holding on to it because it’s part of a feature documentary. We knew there would be some constraints in releasing a short that you would be legally bound to certain contracts. Funny enough, I still don’t know what the Vimeo constraints are but we just said, “Screw it, let’s just submit it. We have rights to the music and it already exists on the web. We had lawyers read through everything and they said, “Well, if you reposition this footage or this content in your doc, you may have to re-edit it a bit or re-score it, but it looks like a really safe festival.”

HDVP: In your opinion, how have sites like Vimeo changed the game for indie filmmakers such as yourself?

RAUSCH: The filmmaker doesn’t have to wait around anymore for the gatekeeper to give him or her access. Because of that, millions of people who have always wanted to use the filmmaking process as an expression, almost like a sketch board, now have access. With the Vimeo platform, it becomes this thing where they can throw up anything they want and it’s celebrated, embraced, and other people are able to witness it. You don’t have to appease any brand, any client, or any sort of specific guidelines. It’s just a pure heartfelt endeavor. And now to see a festival with a $25,000 grant, you have industry people embracing and talking about it. I think it’s even more profound than we’re realizing.

HDVP: Do you have any thoughts on what the business model will be for video on the web?

RAUSCH: I just had a meeting with a brand. A very large brand and they just pulled their three to four million-dollar content and relationship off of a network doing all episodic content. They are now hosting a web page that will be a channel for their brand and they are hiring people like myself, and seven or eight smaller production companies, to produce original content without any real constraints. They pretty much said, “This is the budget and we want you to exactly what you’re doing. We don’t want to control and we will then be using this content to throw up on our online channel and this will be the new direction for our brand.” I would say the exciting part is that the ladder you typically climb to get an episodic picked up onto a network—sometimes a lifelong endeavor—you still have to fill in commercial spots and you have to appease all these different people. With online content, it’s straight from the filmmaker’s heart with little client brand control. They’re just basically stamping their name on the wrapper.

For this Gold’s Gym job that I’m directing, I just hired a DP out of Michigan, who literally sent me some of his stuff on Vimeo. I watched and fell in love with it and we had a conversation over Vimeo and I was able to show his content to my executive producer and client through the site. Now, we’re paying him $1000 a day to shoot this thing for two weeks. The only way I found him and the only way I was able to sit and review his stuff was through the Vimeo experience.

Last Minutes with ODEN from phos pictures on Vimeo.

Here is the original Vimeo link.

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