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Documentary Express
Michael Buffo Helped the Next Generation of Filmmakers Achieve Their Goals with Blackmagic Design Plenty of people move to Hollywood in the hopes of becoming an actor or filmmaker. In order to find regular work and make a successful career out of it, it really helps to learn the ropes from someone who has experienced it firsthand. It certainly takes a lot of hard work to be successful, as Michael Buffo knows. After all, not only has he found success as an actor and filmmaker, but he also began two production companies and a school to share his knowledge with the next generation of young actors and filmmakers.

After living and working in L.A. as an actor for many years, Michael moved back to his hometown of Monterey, CA with his wife Brittney to create the non profit HARA Motion Picture Conservatory and the for profit House of Eight Media. The conservatory teaches acting and filmmaking to students after school and on weekends with lessons in acting, writing, camera, editing, directing, producing and crowd funding. House of 8 Media is Michael and Brittney's freelance producing business for which they take on real estate films, commercials, weddings, live events and corporate work.

Their hard work and dedication did not go unnoticed and was soon sought by Millennium Charter High School, an independent, direct funded public charter school located on the Monterey County Office of Education campus in Salinas, CA. MCHS's curriculum and instruction are based on hands on learning in the arts and technology. The school's focus on Digital Media Arts is unique to the area, and MCHS is currently both the smallest public high school and the only site based charter high school in the county.

The MCOE site features a Digital Media Lab with computers and state of the art editing software, a black box theater, a high definition television studio with professional control rooms and a radio station designed for broadcast as well as podcast production.

"MCHS is a small school looking to do something different. With support from The Media Center for Art, Education and Technology Foundation (MCAET Foundation), it was able to build a 100 seat black box theater and a television studio with two control rooms," said Michael, former drama teacher for MCHS. "The theater itself is incredible for MCHS, but the school and the students benefit even more from the fact that the studio is outfitted with Blackmagic Design."

MCHS has used the studio to tape three live television pilots that will air on MCAET Foundation's two television channels. Written and produced entirely by the students, each show took on a different genre, including a sitcom, romance and sci-fi. The students used up to ten cameras along with Blackmagic Design's ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher and Broadcast Panel, HyperDeck Studio Pro for SSD based recording and two UltraStudio Express capture and playback devices married to iMacs.

Professional, Hands On Experience
"As a media arts high school, Blackmagic Design equipment enabled the studio to be one of the only HD studios in the U.S. that offers hands on experience with this level of technical facilities," said Michael. "The in house studio has been used for nearly every subject. For example, history classes use the infinity green screen for short historic documentaries, and English classes use the studio for poetry and performances.

"But the most exciting work came from the drama class. With an ambitious group writing process of original comedies, last semester we produced three 10 minute television pilots," he continued. "Each was filmed in front of a live studio audience sitting in the black box theater watching the action unfold in two directions: on stage live, as well as projected on a large screen in the theater."

Using the ATEM 2 M/E Production Switcher, they were able to live switch between the three cameras being used to capture the performances, and the program out was projected on the theater's screen. The ATEM allowed the students to seamlessly intercut scenes that were being performed live against the green screen in Studio B with the stage performances happening in Studio A. The audience was able to watch each episode unfold live on the projection screen.

By implementing the green screen, the students were able to create virtual sets, such as a principal's office, forest, mad scientist's lair, hallway and park, without having to build anything. It was as simple as using the ATEM's keyers to key in background still images or plates. The productions were polished with titles, opening sequences and closing credits using the ATEM to play .mov files.

"This hybrid of theatre and television has been reserved for live sitcoms in Hollywood, but the Blackmagic Design hardware and software have opened up a world of production possibilities for the school," said Michael.

And it didn't stop there. When Michael introduced the Blackmagic Cinema Camera, he opened up another new world of video production to the students.

Filming Social Change
An administrator from the MCAET Foundation had an idea for a "People and Places" series, which would explore local history and social change. Michael and Brittney jumped at the chance to co direct the project. The pilot episode was called "Del Monte Express" about the discontinuation of the express train from Monterey to San Francisco. It was intended for local broadcast on the MCAET Foundation's channel, but after receiving such a positive response, the MCHS staff planned an additional nine episodes to complete a 10 part documentary series on multiple local historic and socially significant subjects.

"Brittney and I really liked the idea for the series because it was socially important for the community and a great process for students to learn. It's not something with just entertainment value, but also teaches them how to be an advocate for social change," said Michael. "The power of visual film can motivate people and be a catalyst for change."

Shot using the Blackmagic Cinema Camera EF, as one of the main cameras, in just eight days both on location and in the school's studio, Michael and Brittney shared the roles of director, host and instructor. In his onscreen role as MCHS teacher, Michael also filmed the students as they filmed the project. "It was a very unique and 'play within a play' form because we were on location with the students teaching them how to film a documentary, while actually filming a documentary," explained Michael.

"The look for the project was field journalism, so we did a lot of pop zooms, handheld and landscape shots, with formal interviews and macro shots. We also used a lot of natural light," added Michael. "The Blackmagic Cinema Camera's form factor and SSD based recording were great in terms of mobility and time savings, and we really leveraged its capabilities, such as dynamic range. The resulting cinematic look to the footage was amazing."

While Michael regularly uses the Blackmagic Cinema Camera for many of his projects for House of 8 Media, he was enthusiastic about being able to provide the students with hands on learning on professional technology in the hopes that they will become entrepreneurs who can use video production to pursue whatever dreams they discover.

About Michael Buffo
Michael Buffo is a dedicated teaching artist, mentor and digital video professional. Trained in mind/body counseling, he primarily practices a Socratic method model of teaching and story creation with students and clients. He welcomes projects that are seeking a home in the scenic beauty and rich culture of the Monterey Peninsula.

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