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Meet Cirina Catania – Writer, Director, Cinematographer

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Meet Cirina Catania – Writer, Director, Cinematographer

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Although being cooped up at home for weeks is necessary right now, it is far from ideal. But it does give us an opportunity to check in with some busy members of our community to discuss their careers, their advice for filmmakers and what they are working on now. Next up, please meet Cirina Catania!

Los Angeles Post Production Group: Thanks for taking some time, Cirina. You’ve had a nice

Cirina Catania on stage at the 14th Annual SuperMeet – Ticket to Awesome. ©Carlos Grijalva

long career and have worked in a variety of roles in the film industry. Can you share some of your favorite highlights with us?

Cirina Catania: Life has been an incredible journey so far! And I’m still traveling that winding road.

Looking back is not something I do often, but as I turn in that direction I realize that there have been many highlights:

– At the still awkward age of 16, standing in front of a table of stern-faced judges at the Conservatoire Nationale d’Orleans and watching them as I sight-read a song a-cappella I’d never seen before and as I sang another number, also unrehearsed, while an accompanist played the piano. I can still smell the wood halls, see the light reflecting from the windows on to the floor in rays and feel the parchment in my hands a few days later as I claimed first prize.

– In Munich, Germany at the fashion houses, modeling wedding gowns for buyers, a tough thing for me, as I’m 5’4 1/2” and the gowns were all made for tall women!  But it was fun, for the very short time it lasted!

Frank Capra, Cirina Catania and Jimmy Stewart. ©Cirina Catania Photography

– Working in Salt Lake City on the crews for independent films, later as the owner of a talent agency (SAG, AFTRA and AFofM franchised), then on the Utah Film Commission and then on the first years of the Sundance Film Festival as co-founder and executive director. Spending a few days with Jimmy Stewart and Frank Capra is indelibly etched in my memories.

– My first day on the MGM/UA lot, ensconced in the famous Thalberg Building with a huge rolodex from my predecessor, two awesome secretaries and a star on the door. I still wore Laura Ashley long dresses with white crinolines underneath…and couldn’t pronounce the name of the James Bond film I was working on because it was named after a part of the “female anatomy.”

-Years later, I had survived the Hollywood Jungle, lost my shyness and the warrior came out as I took the reins in the Worldwide Marketing Department of the theatrical division, reporting to the President and the Chairman of the Board with sign-off on a $200 million dollar a year budget.

– Standing in a dark open field in the middle of the night somewhere in middle America, directing and shooting “Chasing Lightning” for National Geographic and pausing to look up into the black sky. It was the one time I have felt so utterly small on this great Mother Earth.

– Getting up at four in the morning during a major snowstorm in June Lake, California, so that I could join the other members of my Ski Patrol on a ride in the dark up the lift to clear the slopes from avalanche danger.  Woo hoo!  First powder!!!!

– That time I was shooting the final few moments in Durban, South Africa, looking through the lens of my camera and running alongside of Danny Glover (his legs are much longer than mine)! I ran right into a concrete pillar, smashed to the sidewalk, and landed unconscious on the ground. Did you know your head makes a watermelon thump when it hits a hard surface?  Next thing I know, I wake up and Danny is leaning right over me, “Are you alright, are you alright?!” To which I reply, “Where’s my camera?” (p.s. it survived the long arch to the concrete, but my arm…not so well…it was broken).

Scouting locations for a feature film in Fiji. ©Cirina Catania Photography

– Traveling on the Amazon River, shooting in Prague, Paris, Berlin, Sicily, Belgium, all over the United States in remote areas I didn’t even know existed and in major cities…. It’s a dizzying dream when I think of it all.

How did I get so lucky!

So many more!  

LAPPG: Wow, what a incredible life you are living! I’m exhausted just hearing about all these highlights. What’s currently on the agenda for you these days?

The Lumberjack System team: Philip Hodgetts, Cirina Catania and Dr. Gregory Clarke.

CC: I have three documentaries in post production (one full-length, one 1/2 hour short and the other a pilot for a series).

I am a partner in Lumberjack System, where I serve as tech ambassador and trainer. Proud to be associated with Philip Hodgetts and Gregory Clarke! They are geniuses and two of the nicest people I know.

I am getting more and more into training/teaching/mentoring. I just got back from Flagstaff for Blackmagic, where I taught several media classes at the Coconino High School bordering the Hopi and Navajo Nations, taught a master class in film at the PBS Station in Duluth, and joined the dynamic duo, Sam/Aubrey to help teach Smart Phone Studio here in San Diego.

And, I am the proud host of the podcast, “OWC RADiO,” where I absolutely LOVE to interview interesting, intelligent and creative people. We are sponsored by Other World Computing and I can’t thank them enough for giving me a venue within which to run!

LAPPG: With three docs in post production I think it’s safe to say you are passionate about documentaries. What is it about documentary storytelling that speaks to you?

CC: I am, above all, a storyteller. Fact or fiction – I love the beginning, middle and end. And when it inspires or entertains others, I am grateful. The world is full of incredibly interesting people and telling their stories give us an excuse to stop, get off the treadmill and spend time together. I am never alone, never bored and always grateful.

LAPPG: What advice would you offer to people who have a story to tell and want to tell it via a documentary film?

Cirina uses an URSA Mini from Blackmagic Design with the Zeiss 70-200mm CZ T2.9 to shoot Marine Cpl Kionte Storey for her documentary. Click the photo to see some rough footage. ©Cirina Catania Photography

CC: If someone wants to get into documentary films, I would ask them…why? Know what your end goal is with the stories you want to tell. Do you want to help others, raise money for a good cause, make money selling your film to distributors, or just enjoy the process as you unwind the mysteries that lie before you?  Be patient.  It takes time for most stories to unfold. You don’t always get the ending you anticipated, but I guarantee you, it will be a better one than you could have imagined.

When Kionte Storey didn’t make the Paralympic Track Team (and I’d been following him around for five years)…he was very disappointed.  But, two weeks later, he called me and said, “Cirina, I’m going to climb mountains now.” And I had a new sixth act!

Documentaries take patience. They require deep respect on our part for the people whose stories we are telling…and they take time and money. Be ready to sacrifice.

LAPPG: Let’s switch to the tech side now. What gear do you like to use? Camera, Lenses, Lights, Drives, EditIng Platforms, etc.

Cirina with her URSA Mini Pro, Sony still, Zeiss & Canon lenses. ©Cirina Catania Photography

I have been shooting mostly with Blackmagic cameras for video and Sony or Canon for client stills. 

My favorite lenses are all from Zeiss. You can’t pry my Zeiss Batis 85 out of my hands. 

I use Rode and Neumann mics, a Scarlett FocusRite and dbx’s 286s mic preamp from Sweetwater and my MacBook Pro for the Podcast with a 35” LG monitor to make it easier to … see stuff!

When I travel, I also shoot a lot with my iPhone 11 Pros. (I have two, an A-Cam and a B-Cam). They are perfect for much more than you can imagine!

OWC drives, including the Thunderbay series, the Thunderbolt 3 Pro Doc, the Envoy Pro, and the amazing Thunderblades, are in my mind the most reliable of any drives out there and their customer service is reachable and you get a human being on the phone who is vested in helping you. Oh, and did I mention that they are FAST.

I’m very excited about my new MacPro and am about to add 128 GB of memory that I bought from MacSales. I have a 27’ Apple 5K Monitor for now but am hoping to get the Pro Display XDR (32” retina 6K) in the next few months.

The iMac is still a wonderful workhorse and when I have an assistant in the studio with me, that is what they work on (if they don’t bring their own laptop).

My NLE of choice is FCPX because that is the language that I speak and I am comfortable.  Although I would not call myself an audio editor (Woody would surely shake his head!)…I now have Logic Pro and will use it for rough edits.  

Although I do have the Apple wireless pro iPods, I use the Sennheiser Ambeo 3D earbuds for a lot of my field videos, particularly if I’m shooting my granddaughter rockin’ it on the stage belting out “Stairway to Heaven” from Led Zeppelin.

Gear is everywhere in my life. Surely, there is something I am forgetting – drones, action cams, tripods, sound gear, LIGHTS, more lights, more tripods, grip equipment and … gaffers tape (my all-time fav).  

LAPPG: About 3 1/2 years ago you were so generous by coming to LAPPG to discuss the significant storage loss disaster you had. Looking back on that situation. what practices or things do you warn people about in terms of storage and archiving of projects?

Click above for a highlight video from the LAPPG presentation.

CC: That was a tough time. It took over two years from the time I was hacked until the media had been recovered and I had culled through and reorganized what was left. Then there were re-shoots and we continue to dig into files that have no names, just numbers, and no metadata. Kind of like a treasure hunt!

My advice to all of you reading this is to make copies, keep at least one or two of them offline and….log your media so that you know what you have. If you are not using files, place them in semi-permanent or permanent storage, on whatever medium you are most comfortable.

Use Lumberjack System to log as you shoot, Builder to keyword using transcripts, or backLog your legacy footage before it is “stored.” That way, you have the equivalent of an “index “of all your footage.

Buy SoftRAID and use it every day!!!

The other suggestion is that you keep your media and drives organized by category. I have mine organized by:

– Financial and legal (on a separate system)
– Administrative
– Stills/Graphics
– Music
– Media

LAPPG: Speaking of storage, can you tell us about how you handle your storage requirements now?

CC: I am in the process of organizing and backing up my library, and plan to move to LTO tape in the very near future. 

I use BackBlaze, Dropbox and a library of and a library of RAIDS from OWC that are from 12 TB to 24 TB. I’ll be purchasing their 128 TB solution in the very near future.

LAPPG: Speaking of storage can you tell us about your radio show for Other World Computing?

CC: Thanks to Other World Computing for sponsoring me as host of OWC RADIO!  I’m very excited. I am about to post my 54th interview and plan to listen to a new one every week. Last time I looked, I had over 4,000 current contacts in my address book, so there is always someone incredibly interesting to speak with and our audience seems to be enjoying it.

I do hope you take a moment and check us out at http://www.OWCRADiO.com. Please subscribe, share it on social media and help us get the word out so that we can help other tech and creative people have a voice.

LAPPG: Is there a good place for our readers to follow you online?

CC: You can go to @Cirina on Instagram, OWCRADiO.com, or Cirina’s Journal on Facebook (or my personal page on Facebook, Cirina Catania, if you want recipes and family photos). Or visit: http://www.cirinacatania.com.

If you want to know more, Google has lots of “stuff” online … You’ll probably find out more than you ever want to know.

Thanks for asking me to participate, Wendy.  It is always nice to speak with you and I hope to make it from San Diego to Los Angeles when the “isolation” is lifted!