How Canon’s Connect App Provides Filmmakers with Disabilities Independence
Bob Ness was a college student at Augustana College in early January of 1987, aspiring toward a career in communications. He and his friend Don had just traveled to Cedar Rapids, where they were making arrangements for their fraternity’s spring formal. It was a perfectly mundane road trip. Neither of them could have possibly predicted what would become a defining moment in their lives.
As they headed back to Illinois through West Liberty, Iowa, Don accidentally lost control of the car in a corner, rolling it over as it came to a stop on its roof. Don managed to walk away from the crash unscathed, but Bob had suffered a broken neck as the roof caved in on his head.
First responders raced Bob to University of Iowa Hospital, where he’d spend the next ten weeks in an ICU. He was aspirated and had coded four times, but somehow, he always found a way to come back. And after a grueling, extensive period of rehabilitation and therapy, Bob Ness was able to graduate in 1988, thanks in large part to all the family and friends who supported him in the wake of his accident.
Some might wrongly assume that such a harrowing ordeal would take something away from a person’s personality, but Bob proves that simply isn’t the case. He’s upbeat, funny, humble, and all-around charismatic. He tells jokes adjacent to his disability, even dabbling in stand-up comedy and producing comedic shorts about it in the past.
Today, Bob owns and operates a successful video production company—Sliding Board Productions, named after a tool familiar to those in wheelchairs as a device that helps transition you between items of furniture—with a lengthy list of impressive clientele. And in his off-hours, he shoots video and performs in a 70’s and 80’s cover band, Quadriphonica. His creativity seems boundless; he’s one of those people who can unknowingly and unintentionally inspire you to get work done on your creative passion projects, without those projects even entering your conversation with him.
I sat down with Bob to discuss film production, the evolution of media, music, and the impressive Canon Connect App, which allows Bob to get involved in new avenues of the production process that were previously difficult, if not impossible, for him to experience.
Matt Terzi: So, tell me about Sliding Board Productions and the work you do.
Bob Ness: I started my company about five years ago. I’ve been working in production for twenty years. I started a company in the 90’s with a friend and it was all tape based with beta SP. Non-linear editing had kinda just started. As a quad it was really cumbersome to be dealing with really heavy tapes and popping them in and out of cameras and tape decks.
After we ended our partnership, I kept on going. I worked for Channel 11 here in Chicago and a couple other places, and then in marketing, and then started working again full-on in production when editing gear really started to become digital. There were no more tapes; it became all SD cards, SxS cards, CF [CompactFlash] cards, things like that. So I started to get to know the editing interfaces better while they kept getting better with Final Cut 7.
I started my own company in 2013. I had some clients who were asking for some work. The guy I was working with at the time had moved out to Las Vegas, so I said “Okay, I’ll start my own company and talk to clients and start doing videos for them.” At that point I had plenty of contacts in terms of cameramen and sound—all crew, basically—and if I needed some extra graphics work I could reach out to other people.
I’ve been on my own for five years, working with marketing departments, non-profits, anybody that needs a video. I’ll hire the crews, direct the crews, manage the client, and manage their expectations, which is probably the biggest part of being a producer. And then I’ll do all the editing and deliver the rough cuts to Final Cut.
Terzi: It seems like your company covers every single aspect of production. I’ve seen other companies that won’t, say, help with brainstorming or script writing.
Ness: I’ve seen companies that will only focus on post, there are companies that will focus on coloring. They can be really specific and only focus on one aspect of production. For me it’s kind of more soup to nuts. I like to meet with clients and discuss what hurdles they’re trying to get over. You know, what’s stopping them or what message are they trying to get out, or if they’re having any issues with their messaging. We’ll sit down and talk with them about their needs and what they’d like to express visually, and we’ll do a bit of handholding, because a lot of them don’t know what’s possible now with video and animation. We’ll try and glean as much as we can from a simple conversation and come back to them with a treatment, perhaps even a voice over, and some rough ideas for visuals, and then go from there. We’ll go shoot it, record voice over, and then deliver, and that’s what I think is fun.
Last year I did a video for a nonprofit called The Anixter Center. It’s for adults with developmental disabilities. They just wanted to show people with disabilities interacting, and I thought it would be fun to record a song, and so a friend of mine wrote a song for it. The woman who was the director of development in the marketing department really really loved it. She wanted to shoot it in the style of a video she showed me. And so we put a light on a crane and did a half-rotation around the subject in a dark room, and we shot it all in slow motion. It was a nice way to show their clients literally in a different light. It ended up being a really cool video. I’m really proud of the lyrics, which were written specifically for the client, and I’m a musician so I love music, and it was fun to work as a musician. It was a really fun project I got to sink my teeth into.
Terzi: Let’s talk about Canon’s Camera Connect app. It was a game changer, I take it?
Ness: When I first was introduced to the Canon Connect App, I was at a fundraiser for Backbones, which is a nonprofit out here in Chicago. I went with a friend of mine, a rock photographer, and he’s always got his camera with him. I went to this opening and I thought I’d shoot a little bit, and I brought my GoPro, because, you know, I can’t really use big ass DSLR cameras, which I’d love to be able to do by myself. So I brought the GoPro and hooked it on my chair, and I was getting my own little dolly shots. And my friend Dave said “Hey, this Canon 5D Mark IV, it has an app, and I can hold the camera and you can pull focus.” And I kinda was like, “What!” I had never heard of such a thing. And so he paired his phone with the camera—the camera was set up on the WIFI network—and I was kind of directing him to get the shots, saying “get the painting on the wall, and then point down to the woman at the table.” And I could hit the focus point on the app when I felt that I wanted to move the focus, and you could change the speed of it and everything.
So that was the first time that I used it. I almost fell over with glee. I was so happy that I could be a part of the production. Instead of having to explain everything, I could see it happening. I could see it in my hands. I could see the shot as it’s happening, and I could actually call it and say “Move the camera over here, and I’ll tap the focus when I’m ready to see it move.”
That was the game changer for me. And in the presence of someone who worked for Canon, which couldn’t have been more serendipitous. Elizabeth Pratt, [Canon’s] Director of Global Professional Services was there and saw Dave and I playing like two little ten year olds in a sandbox, and me saying “Do this! Let’s do this! Get a shot of that!” I couldn’t get enough of it. ...
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By Matt Terzi