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INOVATIV Stories: Cinematographer Joel Spezeski Brings His Vision to Life with Voyager EVO X and DigiSystems

INOVATIV Stories: Cinematographer Joel Spezeski Brings His Vision to Life with Voyager EVO X and DigiSystems

Joel Spezeski is an experienced cinematographer with over 15 years in the industry. He is known for his ability to use light and motion to bring the director's vision to screen and create a compelling emotional experience for the audience. Joel is a founding partner of ‘Ginger Shots’, a tabletop studio where he and his team create stunning visuals using motion control, practical special effects, and high-speed imaging. Ginger Shots is part of ME Group, a production hub in Vietnam for global creations. They are known for their creativity, their ability to work within the constraints of limited resources, and Joel’s own passion for bringing stories to life.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I grew up in Arizona. I gravitated towards filmmaking around the time my brother and I bought a Hi8 camcorder to make silly videos. Every so often, I’d be behind the camera and have this transcendent sense like a hearing song that just floors you or the smell of creosote in the desert after the rain.  

I initially came to filmmaking with the idea of capturing and sharing fleeting moments of beauty. Though I very much enjoyed doing camerawork, I came to cinematography by way of lighting. As I learned to create images in service of enrapturing an audience in a story, I found that those moments could, in fact, be crafted. 

Some years later I was finishing up my MFA in Cinema-Television Production at USC when 12 filmmakers from Vietnam came to visit. One of them, Director Le Bao Trung, invited me to come shoot a project for him in Vietnam. I went and liked it well enough that I decided to go spend 2 or 3 years building my reel in Vietnam. As happens, one opportunity led to another, and I've been lensing TV commercials and films here for most of the past 15 years. 

Along the way I started a family and built a business. 

What problems did you have that INOVATIV was able to solve? 

I needed a mobile workstation to deploy a QTAKE system in a wide variety of circumstances. At the time QTAKE systems and operators were not readily available in Vietnam, so I partnered with ME Group and we started putting together our first laptop-based QTAKE system. As “QTAKE Operator” was not a job that existed in Vietnam at the time, we also believed it was critical to properly equip the team we would build.

We needed something flexible, scalable, and durable that would stand up to the rigors of location work in a tropical climate. Ease of transport and set-up were also major considerations. And after seeing INOVATIV workstation carts at IBC in Amsterdam, I knew INOVATIV had the right tools for the job. 

The QTAKE business took off, especially when remote production capabilities switched from being a convenience to being mission critical. We switched to an all-in-one system, which freed up some of our INOVATIV gear to be adapted for other uses. 

Around this time I partnered with ME Group to create Ginger Shots for tabletop work. We set up shop in a studio and started training and equipping a team around the concept of visual engineering. I adopted the INOVATIV kit to serve as my cinematography workstation. 

What INOVATIV products have been essential for your team? 

We started with a DigiSystem 1535 Pro Ultra Kit with a DigiBase Mount and DigiShade Pro. Then I added a DigiPlate Lite - just for good measure. The whole kit sets up on a baby C-Stand and has been very effective in tight spaces or on days with lots of company moves.

For studio work, I built around a Voyager 36 EVO X cart which has been a nice balance of size and portability. The keyboard-friendly work surface was a must-have. First, we added a Combo Locking Top Drawer for added storage. Having the drawer on set is a huge convenience and time saver. Then, I got the 10” wheels and added Quick Grips at all four corners which make it easy to move around rugged terrain and uneven surfaces.

I use a Storage Trough to hold power bricks and whatnot and have a couple Cable Hooks to help manage cables. I use the Baby Pin System for rigging things like a floppy or DigiPlate Lite or monitor. For additional rigging I attach MSE Infinity Arms to the mount points on the cart. 

The INOVATIV kit enabled us to build out for a wide variety of situations and locations. It also presents attractively and professionally. We can work from the back of a car or set up a full-on video village on location. It’s held up at the beach, in the jungle, and all around the city.

What has been the result of adding an INOVATIV workstation to your workflow?

These days I find myself working in the studio every day with a variety of connected systems. The Voyager 36 EVO X serves as my cinematography workstation. What that means depends on the project. I like that I can easily add, subtract, or rearrange my setup. It also helps with cable management which has become increasingly significant in my workflow. I’m definitely keen to add the new Cable Management Post Clamps to my setup.

Shooting 1000 fps at f/8 requires rather a lot of light. That’s not so good for people’s eyes. Last year I started working almost exclusively with LED’s connected via DMX & CRMX. I set up a little program that brings the lights up for a few seconds and dims them back down which gets triggered automatically with the robot move. Setting this up required a few little interface boxes so we made a skinny middle shelf with tapped holes for DigiClamps and velcro to hold components.

The native shelf lets me securely mount an AJA IO4K plus video interface, a mobile hotspot, a network switch, a DMX Interface, and the M2 Mac Mini that I use to run lighting software.

I have a Small HD OLED 27” Reference monitor mounted on one of my workstation monitor arms. Whether testing or shooting, it seems like folks love to gather around it to study the shot. The INOVATIV arm makes it easy to give someone a better view. Alongside a RoboCup, the monitor is the one indispensable tool. 

I have an Apple Studio Display mounted to the other workstation monitor arm. Mostly this shows me the lighting software interface, but really it’s there for when something I’m doing with a computer needs more screen real estate than a laptop can offer. 

On the top of my cart I’ll usually have a laptop or two and maybe an iPad, depending what is going on that day. I find switching computers cognitively less taxing than switching apps. If one system develops an issue, the other systems aren’t affected. In addition to the lighting computer, I’ll often have my personal laptop on a DigiPlate Lite off to one side.

I use a MacBook Pro and Wave tkElement setup running LiveGrade for on-set color grading. The MBP sits on a DigiPlate Lite with an SSD and a video interface underneath. This is also very convenient to pack up and take on the go. 

Last year I shot a feature and used the DigiSystem DigiCase Pro to take all of my DigiSystem components around to all manner of locations. This worked great for the spots that were too small for the cart.

My INOVATIV workstation allows me to work pretty comfortably with three computers - though it’s probably getting towards time for an Apollo. Ultimately having my cart arrayed with my most-used tools enables me to both work more efficiently and to better focus on creating the image.

To see Joel’s work and stay up to date on his latest endeavors, make sure to follow him on Vimeo and visit his website to learn more.