Ezra Cohen

FILMMAKER + CREATIVE DIRECTOR

Highly versatile creative producer based in Dallas, TX.

With experience as a feature film producer, composer, commercial director, cinematographer, and event coordinator, Ezra brings a wealth of hands on ability as well as big picture marketing perspective to accompany. 

"NO ONE HAS EVER BECOME POOR BY GIVING."

A quick note about the unseen value of underpaid work.
This is a touch subject for some people, so I apologize if I step on any toes.
But I've noticed recently that the only people who text me inquiring about extra work or talking about having a slow month are the people who are super stingy about their day rates and their "value." 

In theory, I totally get it. No one wants to be taken advantage of or feel undervalued.
(I will also add that I think this may be totally fair game with large corporate commercial clients).

But I have to say that some of my best, most fulfilling work recently has come from jobs where I went way above and beyond what was expected of me / what the client had to offer me in return. I have recently put my own money INTO projects recently to make sure they're the best they can possibly be. And 10/10 times, it's led to not only a full recovery of funds on the NEXT job but a ridiculously strong word of mouth reputation leading to new work on the back end.

So remember that we are working with people.
Remember that respect, trust, and our next jobs are to be earned - both by the work you do on set and the person you choose to be before and after.
Know your value, and stand by it. But remember that quality of life is not only found in the amount of money you have (sometimes great projects with great people are far more valuable than perfect pay).

If you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. 
And if you live by the nickels and dimes, you'll die by them too.

"No one has ever become poor by giving." - Anne Frank

BTS - "BLOCK" (Circles 2016 Opener)

The Circles Conference has made quite a name for itself over the past 5 years, so when I ran into Ish Burciaga (the guy who runs Circles Co) at a coffee shop and he asked me to produce/direct the opener this year, I was thrilled. I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do because there was actually a treatment I had developed previously that I was really hoping to work on at some point.

// CONCEPT //
The concept was a simple one really that came about when trying to brainstorm a concept for another project and experiencing severe writer's block. It tormented me until one little moment when all these ideas that seemed blurry and disconnected came together in my mind. I wanted to explore that moment a little more in this piece.

I love films that incorporate the surreal into the real. So I wanted to create almost a documentary-level realness on the front end with a super strong contrast of surrealism towards the end. 

Practically speaking, I loved the production concept of incorporating malfunctioning practicals to add to the sense that something in the "real world" is changing. I had seen this Childish Gambino music video (watch at 02:54) with a similar effect and really wanted to try it on this piece. 

Below is the treatment I sent to Ish.

He gave it the thumbs up, and on the phone that day we discussed 2 additional thoughts: 
- The addition of a second location. 
- The potential of a female lead. 
So I got to work... 


// LOCATIONS //
The first location came easy. A couple months before, I had seen this laundromat in a little town called Roanoke, TX one day after doing lunch with a friend. I fell in love immediately but just snapped a couple photos and filed it away for later use. So this was the time to break it out! 

The second location wasn't too much of a challenge either thanks to the help of my friend and fellow filmmaker, Rob Martinez (amazing work - check him out).  He's got a loft that's a great combo of minimalist and eclectic that I felt would work great. 


// CASTING // 
For casting, I wanted someone who could feel a little "grungier" while still being nice to look at for 2.5 minutes. I also didn't really want to work with too much of an "actor" and was hoping to just direct some more candid feeling moments. The hope for the character was that she would feel like an artist not necessarily "struggling" anymore but definitely trying to hit a new creative level and tight on a tight timeline.  I had worked with Kati Fadlevich before, and It was an amazing experience. I had a feeling she would be able to play the part perfectly, so I gave her a call and we booked it!


// CONCEPT EXPANSION NOTE // 
A cool moment happened a couple weeks before the shoot when Jillian (my wife, creative director, and in this case prop buyer and production designer) began sending me pictures of props she was finding at various thrift stores around town... 
I realized that a ton of the props we had talked about were all either completely circular or had circular elements to them. Not a bad little subliminal thought to attach to the "Circles" conference... so we headed further this direction throughout the process.


// PRODUCTION //
Ok so cue production. 
I've been really lucky to make friends with some of the most incredibly talented hidden gems of the film industry - one of them being Ben Joyner - an incredible DP that I worked with for a year at Musicbed.  He did a really incredible job on set. And brought a poise and polish to the operation and the visuals that I never could have gotten elsewhere. He totally embraced the grungy, handheld vibe but took the lighting to the next level. 

We shot for 2 days - each about 7 hours. 
Day 1 we shot inserts and laundromat Day 2 we focused on the loft scene and tried to block out as much time for the practical effects as possible since that's something I had never really tried before. We had 1 flicker dimmer, but the rest of the lighting effects were just manual dimmer moves by all the guys who came out that night. Below are BTS iPhone shots from production (by Jefte Campos)

And for those interested in gear, we shot 4K on the Sony FS7  - almost entirely on the Sigma Art Series 18-35 f/1.8.

And below is a screenshot of my shot list for the night of the loft shoot. I wanted to be able to think sequentially and also get things out of the way as soon as I had shot them, so I used my favorite to-do list app, Wunderlist. I realize that this not at all a professional format for writing out a shot list, but it worked for me, and that's really all that matters. (Side note: If you've seen the final piece already, you'll notice that a few of these shots never made the cut - or we ended up going about them differently on set. But this was the plan I went in with.) 


// POST PRODUCTION //
So going into the edit,  I knew I wanted to be very intentional with the audio side of things. I'm so used to building edits around music - almost building my edits more like a music video. Which is great! But for this time around - especially with the thought of creating more of a hyper-real doc-style setup, I wanted to challenge myself to really create a world that existed without that. I wanted a really strong "dynamic range" so to speak... Very little action or sound or visual interest until the moment when everything clicks for our lead and the spark of inspiration finally hits. 
So to start, I just laid in all the clips in the correct sequence and threw as much stock placeholder sound underneath to help me get a feel for the pacing of the edit. Then came the finessing and tweaking... trying to find anything that was feeling forced and getting rid of it or covering it up somehow. And along the way, I began coordinating with my good friend, Jonathan Mendoza, who created all the animation / graphic moments in the piece. He really helped bring the vision to life on this, and the animation elements really helped build the concept of another world and a spark of inspiration. 

Music played a pretty minimal but fun part in the end. The funny thing is, we had shot this whole thing literally the night before "Stranger Things" arrived and blew all our minds. And to be honest, I was pissed... A couple episodes in, I started feeling insecure that maybe our practical effects would just be perceived as a ripoff since this piece would be playing in September. But I figured what the heck and just rolled with it. Something just felt right when that track laid in, and it stuck.


And of course none of this would have felt the same without the magical finishing touches from the guys who really polished this thing off.

John Carrington is one of my favorite guys to work with, and he totally crushed the grade on this as usual. Sound design was done by Ryan Monette. I sent the rough draft of the piece to my buddy Doug at one point and he said that Ryan could be the perfect fit for bringing the audio to life. And he really was. He completely understood what we were going for and brought a level of audience immersion to the piece that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. 

So as a final note, I thought it would be cool to share this...
Below is a before and after. The first video is the picture locked cut I sent to client with no grade and my rough sound design. 

And the second is the final product!


After all is said and done, this was an absolute blast to work on, and I hope I get to do more stuff like this in the future.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! Hope you've enjoyed.  And look out for this stuff available for licensing in December on Filmsupply! 

SAN FRAN

Early July this year, I shot for a weekend in San Francisco for a project with Ps. Jason Laird. 
Still working on the edit, but figured I'd share some of my favorite frames so far in the mean time. 
All ungraded stills from Sony FS7 + Sigma 18-35 / Canon 70-200 + 1/8 Black ProMist.

INDIE PRODUCER PROBLEMS + SOLUTIONS

Before getting started, I'd love to share the 2 goals I have for this blog.

1. I've been producing short films and commercials for almost 7 years now (both as a one-man-band type filmmaker and as a designated producer on a team). More recently, I've even had a chance to produce a feature-length documentary. And while that all sounds fancy and grand, the reality is that I've helped kick out some great work on some really tiny budgets.  But I'm a strong believer in the fact that creativity is not just limited to directors and cinematographers. Producing is one of the most creatively challenging roles because it often requires you to figure out how to achieve huge production value with limited resources. And that's what I love doing. So I'm here to share some of the problems I've encountered along the way with some solutions I've found to be helpful for me.

2. I would really love for this to open a conversation around some of the not so glamorous practicalities of making films. Maybe I'm wrong (and I'd love to be corrected if so), but I feel that there are very few resources celebrating and educating the role of producer. Hope this helps add to a dialogue we can all share. I'm in no way an expert. In fact, I feel like I'm ghetto rigging things together more often than not. Maybe you feel the same. Let's talk :)

 

Problem: Client (startup, non-profit, etc) can't afford what you've quoted for a project.
Solution: If the project is right, try offering them a sizable discount in exchange for allowing you to retain ownership of the footage. Then get that stuff onto stock sites and make the money back over time. Residual income is a filmmaker's best friend for funding gear purchases and passion projects.


Problem: Trying to cut interviews down is a long time-consuming process that turns your brain (or your editor's) to mush. 
Solution: Start with transcripts instead. You can read through and pull selects from an hour long interview in about 10 minutes instead of having to listen to it realtime (or even double time in Premiere).  I personally use a service called Rev.com. Highly affordable solution that's very worth the money (especially on long form projects with multiple subjects)
 

Problem: Lots to do on set. Not enough budget to hire pro grips.
Solution:  Become friends with the young filmmakers in your area. Lots of guys are hungry to be on set and experience a behind the scenes look at a higher production value project than what they've been doing on their own. Buy them lunch and teach them as much as you can as you continue to lead the shoot.


Problem: You're headed to an unfamiliar city with limited access to good locations.
Solution: Consider staying in an AirBnB that you can use as a shoot location as well, or (if you're lucky enough to have them in your city already) check out Breather.


Problem: You want to rent gear from local rental houses or individuals that can't / won't deliver.
Solution: Get connected to a local courier service. Most of the time, it's not worth the energy or the money you could make actually working that same hour (or 2). 


Problem: Renting a bunch of gear from multiple sources gets super confusing post-shoot.
Solution: Label each item with garage sale stickers color-coded by rental source.


Problem: Filming computer screens or phone screens never looks as good as you (or your DP) thinks it will.
Solution: Try shoot with the app, VFX Screens and replace it in post.


Problem: The potential of getting stopped by security while on a guerilla style film op can be nerve racking.
Solution: The trick is really to look as unprofessional as possible. Keep your rig as small as you can. Invest in screw on filters so you don't have to use a matte box. And lose the boom mic. 


Problem: You're traveling with a ton of gear and keep getting slammed with overweight baggage fees at the airport. 
Solution: Use an official media badge, or create your own. There are a few airlines (including Southwest) that allow free overweight bags for video crew members. 


Problem: Filming a multi-cam live event (concert, etc) Need to re-sync 4 cameras between takes without disrupting or pulling attention from audience. 
Solution: Purchase large LED clock. All cameras point towards clock between takes. In post, sync all the cameras to the first frame of a new second.


Problem: 4K files can kill your computer's speed
Solution: Try working with "offline" 720p proxy files. Still haven't found a tutorial that I love, but this one should get the idea going. I personally prefer conforming the clips with Davinci Resolve. But the concept is the same across the board. 


 

 

BTS - KARI JOBE CONCERT VISUALS

I wanted to share a peek at some of the concert visuals I had the privilege of producing for artist and worship leader, Kari Jobe.

Tour visuals can be strange thing to figure out how to share because there's so much content. So instead of posting every song, here's a quick mashup of the majority of the visuals cut to Kari's song "Let the Heavens Open (Revisited)." Enjoy!

And now,  little bit of the backstory... 

These visuals were to be created for the Outcry Tour - during which Kari and Cody and the band would be performing arrangements from her remix album, "Majestic: Revisited."

From this thought, I started chatting with my wife and favorite creative collaborator, Jillian, who had the idea to create visuals that literally revisited the Majestic Theater (where Kari's live album, "Majestic" was recorded a couple years before) - approaching that same aesthetic but in a remixed tone. The first 4 screengrabs below are from that shoot. Conceptually, the idea was based around having a physical representation of the Holy Spirit entering a room. 

Looking at the final frames, you wouldn't believe it, but one of the biggest obstacles we had to overcome was the venue's restriction of hazers / fog machines. To do this, we used a pretty incredible product called Fantasy FX Haze-In-A-Can which provided us with a pretty surprising amount of haze and gave us the big cloud effect we were going for. Positioning of the light was key, but it definitely didn't hurt having a Joker-Bug 800 with us.  We also used a 750W Leko as a fill light for different parts of the room. 

Majestic Theater Shoot BTS:

For some of the other elements, we continued to draw inspiration from Kari's album - but this time from the cover which has a regal, gold aesthetic. We knew we needed to enlist the help of our incredibly talented friend, Jonathan Mendoza, who designed and animated sort of Great Gatsby inspired fly-through animation. (Mendo also  animated all of the space-inspired elements).

Other elements also included dust and flickering lights, which were a mixture of organic and animated elements. (The last 2 frames are actually the result of a macro shot of a CD being burned in a microwave. In post, we mirrored the shot for a more dramatic and obscure effect).

Creative Direction: Ezra and Jillian Cohen

Cinematography: Ezra Cohen

2D and 3D Design + Animation: Jonathan Mendoza

Huge shoutout to: Jorge Hernandez + Jonathan Swinney for coming out to help with the shoot last minute. Wouldn't have happened without them.

Camera: Sony FS7 + Rokinon Lenses + ProMist 1/8

 

Screengrabs:

 

 

 

BACK TO MY ROOTS

After an absolutely amazing year working full time as the producer and manager of the film team at Musicbed and another amazing couple years working as a full time filmmaker at Gateway Church... I am going back to my roots to work as a freelance film producer (officially starting March 1!)

Today, I am launching my new reel and my new film production portfolio, but there's something even bigger and more exciting behind this decision. 

I said it a couple weeks ago, but it's true that my whole life I've always felt torn between 2 passions: Film. AND. Music.
Until now, I have always placed one of those passions on a back burner while the other one has thrived (and vice versa). 

But in this little window in time, we both have this undeniable feeling in our gut that it's time to pursue the life we've always dreamed of: a life fully pursuing all of our passions simultaneously. So here it is! We're stepping out to run towards a goal there isn't really a set playbook for. But we've never felt more excited or alive.

In the next few months, expect to see a ton more on the film side (including a feature length documentary I produced last year) as well as some big new steps towards my dream of being a film composer. PLUS, there's way more coming from both of us and our music project COHEN! We have plans for new songs, music videos, short films, and even a full length album soon enough! 

Don't neglect the "and." Don't bury your talents. Run full speed after that thing in your gut that you know you're supposed to do. No more excuses.

This is already shaping up to be the most incredible year of our lives and of our relationship, and we couldn't be more stoked to see what the next steps bring!