Mike Pecci’s Grindhouse Schooling

Boston photographer and filmmaker Mike Pecci has never left his hometown for long. Aside from a stint at film school in New York, Pecci has remained in Boston, a testament to the independent spirit of the arts in that town.

Although he likes to work in Los Angeles and New York, he won’t be relocating his home base and studio in Boston any time soon. “I like being around people who are filmmakers because you’re actually hanging out with real folks, hearing real stories, and being inspired by real life. It’s a good city,” he says.

Drawn to illustration and movies as a child, Pecci was diligent in his research to help aid his artistic career goals. At a community college, he discovered the world of production design, seeing it from a crafts standpoint, and not completely from a storyteller’s viewpoint. He decided this was what he wanted to do, “because it takes all the elements of everything I love—music, illustration, and all that—and puts it all together in one big package,” he says. It was at that moment he wanted to be a filmmaker.

Evalena and her chainsaw by pecci

A discussion with his guidance counselor and a little research made the economic realities and timeline of getting a Bachelor’s degree in filmmaking unrealistic. Pecci didn’t want to wait three years before he could touch a camera. “I was looking for a school you can go to that would allow me to direct,” he recalls. “A lot of different schools would pick a student from the class, and he’s the director, and you can be spending the same amount of money for tuition and be a friggin’ boom operator while your classmate was learning how to direct. The one I found—they were very new at the time—was the New York Film Academy.”

Trained to be a director and filmmaker in school, upon returning to Boston, he was unable to afford the type of director of photography he wanted on his own productions. This forced him to teach himself camera technology, composition, and how to tell stories with both. “Part of that process was me doing it both on video and with stills because stills were a lot more affordable,” Pecci says. In this way he was able to work on framing, color, and lighting compositions. Simultaneously, he spawned two different aspects to his career in tandem, stills and motion.

Battle Stance by pecci

Calling himself “obssessed” with his art, Pecci was all-in at the age of 22. Spending every moment either shooting stills, developing concepts, writing treatments, or creating short films, Pecci didn’t let up. His shorts gave him the opportunity to practice cinematography, editing, and storytelling.

Eventually partnering with Ian McFarland, they got into the music video business, and found an agent in Los Angeles. Creating videos for bands like Meshuggah and Fear Factory, he found his dark visual style lent itself to heavy metal clientele. The Mesuggah video for “Bleed” was one of their most popular videos, hitting over 8 million views on YouTube. It was voted one of the top metal videos of 2010 by MTV. Their video for Vera Cruz’s “The Game” was shot on a RED ONE and is the duo’s first fully-composited effort.

As a child, Pecci wanted to become a comic book artist. His love of the medium never waned. “If you look at a lot of my photography—my poses and my stances—you can see the influence of a lot of different comic artists,” he says. His love for this genre in both print and film has put many of his own productions under the umbrella of grindhouse movies.

Diecast 2009 by pecci

The McFarland and Pecci company works with corporate clients when not creating their own films. Creating mini-documentaries and commercials, they often hear their clients say things like, “We never knew you could shoot an interview like that.” This is because their vision remains consistent across projects, and clients can expect corporate work which isn’t cookie cutter-like. You can see a selection of their video work on Vimeo.

Along with the grindhouse genre, Pecci has distinguished himself in the short documentary field. He’s allowed the Sekonic blog to premier the trailer for the new McFarland and Pecci minidoc on musician T.J. Horn entitled Controlled by Rhythm. Pecci brings moody composition, framing, and high production skills to individuals he finds interesting. Some may find them disturbing. We find these films compelling.

Documentaries are not immune from the Pecci way of shooting something in an unorthodox fashion. He completed Push: Madison Versus Madison, a compelling feature documentary about an inner city high school basketball team from Roxbury, Massachusetts. Pecci laid down ground rules before accepting the job, declaring he wasn’t a sports enthusiast, and just being in the gymnasium wasn’t going to excite him. He explained, “If I’m going to do this, I want to do it in a visually interesting way. I want to do it in a new way.”

Push poster by pecci

Instead of having multiple cameras, Pecci just used one. He put lav microphones on all the main subjects in the gym. All those mics transmitted to his earpiece so he could hear what everyone was saying, even on the other side of the gym. “At low points, when there is nothing going on, I would be running around getting B-roll footage. I would have a camera with a zoom lens, and I would hear someone say something poignant and immediately just stand up wherever I was from across the gym and zoom snap-in on that person to get coverage of them saying that stuff,” he explains. “It added this energy to the piece.”

Pecci also filmed the interview segments differently. Instead of having each subject speaking alone to the camera, he shot the players—who happen to be gang members—in a park, with their fellow gang members around them. “The whole piece has a sort of new feel and vibe to it,” he says. “After we did that, the corporate people called and asked for it.”

Not only did corporate clients come to request similar work, but the critics gave strong reviews to the documentary, referring to it as Hoop Dreams gone wrong.”

Always envisioning new ways to push technology, Pecci had an idea for a different kind of moving photograph some time ago. His version is now ready for prime time and called Living Images. “It was a technique I had an idea to do years ago, but the technology wasn’t ready for it,” he says. “Recently in 2011 we were able to make stuff work with the use of HTML5. For me, it’s blending both the skills of being a photographer and cinematographer into one thing, then trying to make pictures that are breathing.” Living Images are nothing short of a comic book panel come to life.

Blowing bubbles by pecci

Pecci recently deployed his Living Image process on a nursing school Web site, The Boston Phoenix, and other clients. It involves several considerable technological issues, including avoiding Flash, making the animation of one or more humans loop seamlessly without a noticeable edit, and a small file size so it will download reasonably quickly. The artistic or more human issues are how to film a model or actor execute an action which can be seamlessly looped, yet is dynamic without being trivial. Pecci calls it “the perfect blend of both worlds.”

Regarding gear, Pecci says, “As far as equipment is concerned, I use what works for what the situation calls for.” For stills, he originally shot Canon, because his mother had an old AE-1. When Canon was initially lacking in their digital offerings, Pecci went with a Nikon D100. Still steeped deeply in cutting-edge digital technology, he primarily shoots Nikon, and has done many music videos with Nikon cameras. When they are not given a budget to use RED gear, Nikon fills the gap nicely for his production team. “The Nikon stuff actually has more capacity, the cards don’t overheat, the body doesn’t overheat,” Pecci says. “You can deal with audio better with it than you can with Canon.”

For metering, Pecci is currently using a Sekonic L-308DC DigiCineMate. “I use it and I try to get people I work with to use meters all the time,” he says. “Half the time the video monitors are wrong. Just because you can preview stuff right away doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s faster.”

Checking the light

Mike Pecci taking a reading with his Sekonic L-308DC.

Always relying on his meter when shooting stills, he also uses it in filming when a scene is being rigged. “You walk around to see where everything is falling,” he says. “We use it a lot for calculations on slow motion shots and that kind of stuff.”

Having wrapped twelve short films in as many years, Pecci now has two features written, with one feature in preproduction at this time. Filming is scheduled to begin in April. Whether shooting corporate client work, or his own projects, Pecci continues both learning and doing things his own way. Stills or motion, this artist brings his unique vision to each project. Watching where his career goes next is like a good comic book. Expect the unexpected, and be ready for something you’ve never seen before.

Mike Pecci Photography
Mike Pecci blog
Mike Pecci on Twitter
Mike Pecci’s Living Images
Grindhouse trailer

Written by Ron Egatz

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Posted in cinematography, L-308DC.