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Frank DiCesare filming a scene from "Gardens of Life" with his Canon 1014 XL-S Super 8 camera. (Video by Miranda L. Clapp)

A new website, a much-needed repair, increased distribution, viewership milestones, and a lot of sweat equity were among the many highlights and hurdles for Oskar Films throughout 2021.

The early winter was a bit of a bumpy ride for us. In January, Oskar Films’ debut film “Blacksmith” reached its 500th ticket buyer. A week later, however, our new short film, “Gardens of Life” was in early

production when the film advance mechanism on my Canon 1014 XL-S Super 8 camera decided to go kaput. There are many things that can go wrong on a film set. All professional filmmakers know that from day one. The great ones know how to overcome them. But few film-related mishaps are as discouraging as pressing your camera’s shutter release button only to hear a slight buzzing sound rather than the well-known whirring of film moving along the sprockets at 24 frames per second.

Sometimes it’s the Super 8 cartridge that’s the problem. A couple of firm taps on its bottom against a flat surface often gets the issue resolved. (The inner workings of a Super 8 cartridge give new meaning to the word “convoluted.”) But if the tapping solution doesn’t work, it typically means your camera’s insides need to be looked at; and that means shipping your baby out for an examination and possible operation.

And for a single-camera indie filmmaker, placing your baby in the mail means production comes to a halt.

I shipped my camera to Photo Center in Los Angeles, where it arrived in the capable hands of Mr. Marvin Meister, one of the best in the camera repair business. About six weeks later my camera was returned to me all fixed and ready to shoot.

During that time, however, a major change occurred at Amazon Prime Video. In early February the company decided to purge millions of non-curated short films and music videos from its website. Our first short film, “Blacksmith” was among the films that got the axe. (I submitted “Blacksmith” to Amazon Prime Video before it received a distribution contract with Filmhub. So after the film passed Amazon’s quality control review, it was accepted as non-curated.)

Map showing the countries in which Oskar Films' debut short film, "Blacksmith" has been streamed. The film debuted on Amazon Prime Video on May 5, 2018.

To keep “Blacksmith” alive online and to promote future projects, I launched on March 4, as I worked with Filmhub to try to get the film back on Amazon Prime. I also pitched “Blacksmith” to many SmartTV apps to increase viewership and sales. The film received streaming contracts from Filmzie, FlexNet TV, and GuideDoc.

These new streaming partnerships, in turn, led to a huge spike in “Blacksmith’s” global viewership. In January, the film had been viewed by streamers in 17 countries around the world. Today, that number stands at 79. Hopefully, we’ll hit 80 and more soon.

March also saw “Blacksmith’s” return to Amazon Prime Video for sale as a curated film. Crisis resolved.

The spring and summer months saw production on “Gardens of Life” continue, often in temperatures near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. (Remember, this is south Florida, where summers are often scorchers.) Nevertheless, production continued, ending with 14 reels of Kodak Super 8 film “in the can,” shot, developed and color-corrected. As of this writing, the rushes are looking great, but we’re far from finished with production.

Oskar Films ended 2021 with the launch of its LinkedIn page shortly after Thanksgiving. In just four weeks the page has garnered almost 60 followers, including some impresarios in the film business.

But regardless of who you are or what you do I am thankful for your decision to follow Oskar Films on LinkedIn and on other social media platforms. It truly means a lot.

Looking ahead to 2022, I’ve got much in the works with respect to “Gardens of Life,” including the release of the film’s first trailer. I also hope to release many promotional videos featuring the film’s four gardeners, beginning sometime next spring. Oskar Films is also in the development stages of a new, full-length documentary, the subject of which I hope to announce next fall.

This year has indeed been a fruitful one for Oskar Films. I want to take this opportunity to thank all those who have been so supportive of our projects, especially to my camera and sound assistants Tony Gallucci, Miranda Clapp, Mike Beck and Danny Caro. Filmmaking is a “crazy and beloved profession” (to quote Orson Welles), one with few guarantees and many headaches. But it’s what we love to do, and I hope it shows in our work.

In closing I wish everyone reading this post a Merry Christmas, a happy holiday season and a happy new year. Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2022.

Best wishes,

Frank DiCesare

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Let’s face it – our modern digital photography world is all about sensor upgrading, pixel peeping, and an obsession with sharpness. And I plead guilty to all three.

I’ve pressed the little spyglass + and – button on the backend of my digital camera more times than the channel arrows on my television clicker. I guess sharpness means more to me than reruns and reboots.

Professional photographers and videographers, many of whom would never admit to pixel peeping or “chimping,” do this sort of thing to check the sharpness in their images for a very good reason – their editors and clients demand it. Today, sharpness pays the bills.

But when digital videographers return to shooting motion picture film, especially a small format like Super 8, they have to live with the analog “sharpness” that generations of 20th century directors and cinematographers accepted as “in-focus” or sharp. And I’m certainly no exception.

To the right is a short clip I made last summer to test all of the features and buttons my Canon 1014 XL-S Super 8 camera. I created a split screen layout to show before and after shots of the original DPX log file and the finished, color-corrected scene. Feel free to expand the video.

As you’ll see, the closeup shots look very sharp, even for Super 8. (The lens on the Canon 1014 XL-S is extraordinary.) The wide shots, however, lack the sharpness of today’s digital sensors. Those shots have the sharpness of film -- Super 8 film. They look good; they look in focus; but I doubt they would pass anyone’s chimping test. That’s because they’re not supposed to; they are frames exposed on Super 8's tiny format, and, therefore, have Super 8's resolution.

It’s film’s softness – among many other things – that differentiates it from digital. I recently saw an old photograph taken by the great W. Eugene Smith in 1956 of a nun on a pier in New York City, waiting for the survivors of the Andrea Doria to return home. This extraordinary image is all about expression and composition, not sharpness. Indeed the nun’s eyes and nose are in focus, but the rest of the photo (including her fingers which rest pensively against her mouth) lacks the kind of “sharpness” expected of today’s digital images. Nevertheless, the lack of sharpness in this photo does not detract from its artistry or beauty; rather, its softness adds to it. The focus is her facial expression, and that’s it.

That’s part of the magic and beauty of film – softness plays just as much of a role as sharpness. It truly is a different format, one that continues to stand on its own well into the mirrorless 21st Century.

As Oskar Films continues principal photography on “Gardens of Life,” I can safely say this will not be a film for pixel peepers. No matter. So far the film’s rushes have played nicely with Davinci Resolve 17 and Final Cut Pro X. I don’t expect to have to separate them any time soon.

And as 2021 comes to an end, I am pleased with “Gardens” progress and look forward to continuing production after the holidays. Promotional materials for the film are also in the works, so keep an eye out for future updates in 2022.

Best wishes,

Frank DiCesare

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A screen shot of color correction on reel #9 of "Gardens of Life." Production on the film will continue next month.

Production at Oskar Films this summer was marked by a lot of hard work in the hot Florida sun, a two-week, east coast road trip, a few accomplishments that were worthy of note, and, more recently, an endless amount of rain.

For starters, global viewership for "Blacksmith" spiked from 17 countries and territories in January to more than 70 by early July. This was due primarily to the fact that the film had been picked up by GuideDoc, Filmzie and Flexnet TV for online and smartTV streaming. Our July 7 press release announcing the news was picked by several newspapers, including The Quincy Sun, The Beaumont Enterprise, the San Antonio Express-News, and The San Francisco Chronicle. Not bad for a 15-minute debut film.

This summer also saw the completion of “Gardens of Life’s” first 15 reels. A rough estimate puts the film’s principal photography to about 20 percent completed. Shooting this summer was tough. June, July and August brought stifling heat and humidity, and, of course, Florida’s fickle rainy season. It seemed whenever we wanted it to rain, it didn’t. And when we needed a stretch of good weather, we were given a downpour. I often found myself looking out onto my lanai, thinking how much Mother Nature must love irony.

Nevertheless, my team and I soldiered on and got our work done.

Once reel 15 was in the can, my wife and I took a 1,500-mile road trip to my parent's home in Southeastern Massachusetts. Along the way we spent time in Charleston, S.C., Washington, D.C., and New York City. I didn't shoot much video, but I did take a lot of still pictures, digital and film. A few finished rolls are in my refrigerator awaiting development.

Now with autumn’s cooler weather on the horizon, “Gardens of Life” will resume production. Reels 11 through 15 will be sent to out for processing and scanning. Production on reels 16 through 20 will begin in October. Our goal is to complete 40 percent of principal photography by February.

Shooting a short, process documentary on Super 8 isn’t easy, but it’s a challenge we’ve enjoyed tackling. “Gardens’” rushes have been looking great. However, there’s a lot more work to do.

If you or your company sponsors films that have a strong potential for a global audience, visit Our Major Sponsors page for a look at the benefits of sponsoring “Gardens,” as well as future Oskar Films projects. If your company’s products are connected to gardening or home improvement, we’d love to talk to you about product placement opportunities in “Gardens of Life.”

As always, we thank you for your consideration. Stay tuned for more updates in the months ahead.

Best wishes,

Frank DiCesare

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