Matthew Johnston

t mills interview

T Mills Interview with DJ Beatstreet

DJ Beatstreet and I sat down with T Mills recently at the Trocadero in Philadelphia.

t mills interview

T Mills Interview

I actually had the opportunity to catch up with Columbia Records recording artist T.Mills and talk about what has been going on with him. About a year ago him and I shared the stage in Philly at the TLA. I have not heard of him until a month before encountering him & his current single at the time was “Vans On”. I was a little weary of the record at first, but over time it grew on me, and when he preformed it… the audience loved it. After leaving that night he has traveled to Europe, toured on the Vans Warped Tour, dropped a free mixtape, got inked up some more and released a new single that is starting to heat up the streets.  Check out the video.

For more from T Mills, check out his live performance at the TLA, supported by Kid iNk and Kirko Bangz.

For more from our artist’s interviews series, check out DJ Beatstreet’s interview with Krewella.



Back to the Beach



I have a connection to the beach.  Living close to the Atlantic, summers often meant weekend or week long trips to the shore, where we would spend days at the beach and boardwalk.  It’s something of an icon of my childhood.

We took other trips too, tropical vacations and Disney World and camping through the southwest.  But the beach was an easy escape for us and we found ourselves there a lot.


Follow the Trail

I took my first picture on the beach, on an old Canon AE-1.  I can’t remember how old I was, but I remember the image.  Just my parents sitting on a towel, nothing too fancy.  But it was the first time in my life that I pushed that shutter button.

It would be easy for me to say that was the moment I fell in love with photography, but it would be a lie.  It didn’t start a lifelong obsession or redefine me as a person or anything like that.


View from the Bridge. HDR

All that said, I remember the feeling I got.  Honestly, I do.  It was a Prometheus feeling.  I was doing something that I’d only seen adults do, up to that point.  It felt like stealing fire from the gods.

I had that feeling again, this year.  Elizabeth and I went to Lewes for a weekend and I took my new 5D Mark III.  My intention was to use the time as a crash course in all things 5DMIII.  I had to learn the camera quickly, because I was going to shoot a music video with it the following weekend.

beach room


The beach is normally a muse for me.  This trip, the inn was too.  It’s called the Blue Water House and it alone is a reason to visit Lewes.  We stayed in the Caye Largo room, which was bright yellow and full of monkeys.

beach room


When we packed to leave, it was with confidence.  The trip had accomplished everything I wanted.  It had restored that feeling of fire – stealing wonder that I first experienced on a beach with an AE-1.  This time in a little seaside town, with a camera that’s all mine.



All the images here and on flickr were taken with a 5DMIII.

suspense photography

Suspense Photography – Unexpected Visitors

suspense photography

Sometimes things come organically to me.  Most often it’s photography pieces.  This image, Unexpected Company, is something different.  It is the organic foundation of a new photography project.  This image begged to be hung alongside my other domestic suspense works, Jilted and Self Portrait with Corpse.  These three will now make up the set Love Hurts, and they will not be alone.  I plan on creating more images over the next few months.

My History with Suspense

Christmas 1994.  Along with the requisite Godzilla toys, I receive a collection of Suspense radio shows on audio tape.  These, along with Escape, The Shadow and Lights Out, will dominate my cassette player for months.  It’s my first introduction to noir and I’m hooked.

Not long after, these shows are supplemented by a new kind of comic book – one based on a very old series.  In the early 1990’s, Russ Cochrin began reprinting old EC titles, including their legendary horror line: Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and the Haunt of Fear.

I probably have around two dozen of these comics.  They brought imagery to the stories Suspense was whispering in my ear…horrific, lumbering terrible imagery.

It’s fascinating to note that these titles met their demise after a critical paper was published linking comic book violence to juvenile delinquency.  Strong regulations were placed on the industry, changed the landscape of the medium forever.  The effect of Wertham’s largely falsified negative view on the medium and the establishment of the CCA was the proverbial nail in the coffin for EC’s horror line.

The Legacy of Fear

Even today, EC and Suspense’s stories continue to be republished, revisited and applauded.  It’s a testament to the quality of work their creators produced.  They were able to captivate out minds and extend their stories beyond the time they were written. They touch something carnal inside us, an animal instinct that makes us glance over our shoulder as we leave the room.

While I did not turn out to be a violence – driven delinquent (much to Mr. Wertham’s chagrin), I was definitely influenced by these works.  When I look at these images, I can imagine Joseph Cotton describing them or the Cryptkeeper smiling sardonically in the background.  They are my contribution to the genre, my legacy.  And you will see more of them.

storytelling closet

Pixar and Thoreau on Storytelling

storytelling closet

A plot outline on my closet door

For the last month or so, I’ve been back in the writer’s chair, sipping the writer’s coffee and attacking a new narrative script.  I’ve been largely focused on plot development and character arcs, so it’s very fortuitous that a familiar article is making its rounds in the blog world – Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling.

It’s no secret that Pixar consistently produces some of the most solid pieces of storytelling out there.  Their writers have a fantastic grasp of the human condition, plot and character arcs and escalation.  They know how to make things hard, risky and rewarding and how and when to raise the stakes.  They are masters of their craft.

Interestingly, I feel that Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling pair well with some fascinating advice from Henry David Thoreau.  Let’s explore them together and try to discover how these two different artists’ philosophies compliment each other.

Any writer, regardless of their medium, can benefit from Pixar’s rules.  Here are some of my favorites:

Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.

16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.

19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Most of these relate to characters.  Good storytelling, at its core, comes from good character development.  Without engaging, compelling and complex choices, all your hard work on the plot will be meaningless.

Thoreau’s Unintended Advice for Writers

One of my favorite pieces of advice for writers is not for writers at all.  It comes from Thoreau’s Walden:

“Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.”

A story’s plot is a series of moves.  They key to effective storytelling is using as few moves as possible.  Even the most complex and twisting stories should be able to be boiled down to a few basic moves, leading the characters from point A to B to C and concluding there.  Too many moves and things either get confusing or coincidental – neither of these is a good storytelling.

Conclusion – Back to Basics

When we take Pixar and Thoreau together, we see both sides of a coin.  You can’t have compelling storytelling without a powerful plot and your powerful plot is meaningless without engaging characters.  They support each other.  Therefore:

Keep your stories simple, keep your characters complex.

Follow this rule, and you’ll be well on your way to successful storytelling.


Sofar Sounds – Music Videos

In January, I had the opportunity to shoot four live sets for Sofar Sounds Philadelphia.  If you haven’t heard of them, Sofar Sounds organizes live music events and holds them in regular living rooms.  The music is eclectic, the atmosphere sparks with an almost relaxed creativity and the people are easy – going, friendly and all around awesome.

Noah Dickenson and I rolled in an hour early, grabbed some establishing shots of the room and the people coming in and set up for the first of four acts.  Aaron Brown, DRGN King, The Gallerist and Mo Lowda and the Humble.

Sofar Sounds Pretty Good

Sofar Sounds

We shot on my 7D and Noah’s 60D and recorded audio on a pair of Zoom H4N’s placed on opposite sides of the room.  These were then mixed together for the final edit.  Recording audio during a live event from only one source can sometimes yield files that are too heavy on one instrument and too light on another, and mixing two separate sources helped to eliminate this issue.

All the videos were cut in FCPX by Noah.  Take a moment to check them out and head over to these artist’s sites.

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Technique for Directors – When To Reshoot

Being a director is a weird job.  I think of it as being the captain of a ship (or a Battlestar if you prefer).  You need to be in control and in charge, but relaxed and calm.  You need to know exactly what you need and how to get it while still listening to what everyone else needs and satisfying them.  And you have to do it all within the schedule set by someone else.  Being a director is a daunting, challenging task.

director adama

What a director looks like

There is surprisingly little information on how to juggle everything a director does.  Film schools tend to teach specific things; shots and lighting, acting, etc, but never really explain how to tie it all together.  They teach skills, but not technique.

This is the first in an occasional series of posts I’ll be doing on the technique of directing.  This is actually a repost of an excellent article by Patrick Tucker titled What a Film Director Does After They Say “Cut”.

The entire article is worth a look, but I’ve highlighted a sequence here that stands out to me:

How to Think Like a Director


J Farell and me, shooting a music video

As a director, you’re the point person for the production.  This means you have to have to evaluate everything that comes your way and have an opinion on it.  Believe it or not, that’s easier said than done.

1:  Did you like the take?

On balance, were all the major elements in place?  (framing; camera movement; lighting; design; properties; costumes; make-up; script; editing – will it cut to and from the surrounding shots; and DON’T FORGET TO THINK ABOUT THE ACTING.)

4: Weigh up the pros and cons of going again

Balance the wishes of the crew/actor requests on one side, and your knowledge of how much must be done today (and what is coming up) on the other. Is it better to correct something now, or wait to fix it in post-production?

6: The 10 Second Rule

Oh – all the above decisions, from #1 to #5, should be done in less than 10 seconds after you shouted “Cut!”.  Longer than that, and you and your crew will lose momentum.

It’s that last one (number 6) that makes all the difference.  Directors have the dubious honor of being the person who sets the tone for the day.  If you’re on set and you’re stressed, anxious or hung over, the crew will feed off this negative energy.  Likewise, if you’re smiling and generally having a good time, this positivity will translate too.

I always make it a point before any shoot to remind myself (and my AD!) to enjoy myself.  It’s easy to forget, with everything going on during the day, and it never hurts to take a second and smile.

year of the snake

Year of the Snake

year of the snakeFor the past three years, I’ve been trying to make it to Philadelphia’s Chinatown to see the New Year’s parade.  The last time I was there was 2009, armed with only a Canon Powershot.  Ever since, I’ve been eager to get back with some more substantial equipment.  I finally got my chance this year – The Year of The Snake.

I put this piece together in about thirty hours.  It was partly out of the fear of the content becoming irrelevant and partly because I wanted to see if I could do it.  A project like this, with deadlines that only I subscribe to, could easily stretch out for nine months to a year if I let it.  I review, I tinker, and before I know it, three months have passed.  The piece has lost its relevance and I’m left with something that has no timetable at all.

No Fear in the Year of the Snake

I used to work in retail, where the Christmas/New Year’s holiday break was basically nonexistent.  Because of this, I always made it a point to take off around the Lunar New Year, calling that my “holiday”.  In a way, this is when my 2013 begins.

I have a strong dislike for snakes, which is to say they make me want to climb on a table a curl up into a ball.  As such, the year of the snake is not something that I should look forward to.  In fact, it’s something that I should run away from, or try to violently stab.

But, I’ve got a lot to look forward to.  2012 was simultaneously one of the hardest and most rewarding years of my life, and I don’t intend for 2013 to be anything less.  We’ll see what the Year of the Snake holds.

Screen shot 2013-01-31 at 7.20.56 AM

My Photography for Sale on Fine Art America

I’m now selling my photographs on Fine Art America.  Fine Art America is a great website that allows artist to connect with art lovers and offer their artwork with very little overhead cost.  They have a wonderful selection of custom print sizes and matting and mounting options.

If you’re interested in a photo that I don’t have available on Fine Art America, please contact me and I’ll gladly add it to the collection.

Click here to view the pictures currently available for sale.

fine art america framed

belize boat

Belize Part One

Reefs, Kayaks and the Best Beer in Belize

belize boat

Last spring, I had the opportunity to travel to Belize on a holiday, with a National Geographic Adventures tour.

The ten day trip was divided into two parts: exploring Belize’s islands and navigating the rainforest.  This video is Part One, our time among the cayes and islands.  Part Two will be forthcoming, and will focus on the trek through Belize’s rainforest and our personal guided investigation of some of the most spectacular ruins in the world.

While on the islands, we had a chance to sit down and talk to the locals, the Garifuna.  They offer a fascinating perspective on the world.  Our chef, Rachade, describes it by simply saying “On the island, you can be who you are.”

I brought two cameras to Belize: my 7D and a brand new GoPro Hero2.  There are some stumbling blocks with the GoPro; poor underwater focusing and oversharpening degrade the images – but not to an unusable degree.  This was long before the Protune firmware that elevated it to a true B camera, but the GoPro still holds its own.  Sometimes we get so caught up in tech specs, we forget that the subject makes the shot.

belize belikin gopro

I thought it would be a welcome change from the cold, windy weather we’ve been having.  So put on your Tilley, grab a Belikin and take a moment away from the dead of winter.

4k tvs

4K TVs – Don’t Do It

Why 4K TVs are Stupid

4k tvs

Yep, that’s a polar bear tv

This is just a fantastic article on 4k tvs and why you don’t need one.  I’m nowhere near as intelligent as Mr. Morrison, so I’ll just provide you with the link to his excellent analysis of how our eyes process information and why contrast matters more than pixels.

Please take the time to read his article, especially if you’re considering buying a new TV.  ESPECIALLY if you’re considering buying 4K TVs.

“The latest TV technology buzzword is “4K.” This magical alphanumeric represents a quadrupling of the now-standard 1080p resolution found on Blu-ray and most HDTVs.

Have no doubt, manufacturers are going to start pushing 4K (some already are).

The thing is, though, you don’t need 4K, because in the home, 4K is stupid…

The human eye, for all its amazingness, has a finite resolution. This is why you can read your computer screen from where you’re sitting, but not if you’re on the other side of the room. Everyone is different, but the average person with 20/20 vision can resolve 1 arcminute. One arcminute is 1/60th a degree. If you assume your field of vision is 180 degrees (it’s not, but go with me here), and you take 1 degree of that, you’re able to resolve a 1/60th sliver of that degree. Close up this means you can see hairs on your arm, wrinkles on your thumb, and so on. At distance, these fine details disappear. If a friend waves at you from across a field, you can probably see the person’s thumbs, but not any wrinkles or hair. Far enough away, you probably won’t even be able to see thumbs, unless those are some really, really big thumbs.

One arcminute of resolution is a best-case scenario. On a black on white vision chart, this holds true. Reduce the contrast of the object with the background, add color, and many other factors limit your ability to resolve resolution.

Your over-resolutioned TV

Let’s bring this back to TVs.

Depending on technology, a 1080p 50-inch flat panel TV’s pixels are approximately 0.023 inch wide. This is presuming they’re square (many aren’t) and that there’s no intra-pixel distance (there is). The plasma I photographed for the lead image above measured 3 pixels per 1/16 inch, which is 0.021 inch per pixel. So we’re in the ballpark.

Most people sit about 10 feet from their television. At 10 feet (120 inches), your eye can resolve an object 0.035 inch wide, if like I said above, there’s enough difference between it and the background (or its adjacent pixel, in this case). The memories of the Westwood school system that told me I was bad at math compels me to show my work, so feel free to check my math:

2 x pi x 120″: 753.98″ (circumference of a circle, with you at the center)
753.98 / 360: 2.0944″ (360 degrees in a circle)
2.0944 / 60: 0.0349″ (60 minutes in a degree)

This math, or just looking at your TV, tells you that you can’t see individual pixels. What’s interesting is that a 720p, 50-inch TV has pixels roughly 0.034 inch wide. As in, at a distance of 10 feet, even 720p TVs have pixels too small for your eye to see.

That’s right, at 10 feet, your eye can’t resolve the difference between otherwise identical 1080p and 720p televisions. Extrapolating this out, you’d have to get a TV at least 77 inches diagonal before you’d start having a pixel visibility problem with 1080p.

Or, you can move closer. Beyond being a math exercise, let’s be realistic. No one’s going to sit 6 feet from a big TV. I’d doubt 7 feet, either. So if we say 8 feet (96 inches), or 0.028 inch on the resolution side, this means you’d need a TV that’s bigger than 60 inches to really benefit from 1080p.”

Read more…