Nic Sadler: More Than a DP

By Howard Buksbaum filed under People

July 11, 2013

Nic Sadler is a very interesting dude. He’s an accomplished DP, award winning software developer, builder of a net-zero, eco-friendly home and, as it turns out, a pleasure to work with. But, before I get to all of that, let me tell you about how I came to know him.

Years ago, during a fit of OCD, hunting for the BEST iOS apps for filmmakers, I stumbled upon an app called Artemis Director’s Viewfinder from Chemical Wedding. If you haven’t used it, it’s fantastic. I had such a great experience that I decided to reach out to the developer. I was pleasantly surprised when Nic Sadler, Chemical Wedding co-founder, responded almost immediately. And so began our relationship. He asked if he could call me to chat. It’s rare that you get that kind of personal attention from an app developer, but having come to know Nic, it’s not out of character. He’s extraordinarily generous. From our very first conversation it became clear that this guy is no bullshit artist. He knows his stuff, and he has no problem calling it as he sees. I was instantly drawn in.

We got to talking and I learned Nic was a DP who had been interested in creating filmmaking tools and when the iPhone was introduced, it gave him a new outlet for creativity. The more I got to know him, the more intrigued I became. I finally struck paydirt; the perfect subject for our first article about interesting people who fit the Very Nice profile to a tee. I asked Nic how he would feel about doing an interview for veryniceindustries.com. He obliged, and promptly carved out some time for a lengthy Skype session.

First and foremost, I was interested in learning about his career as a DP. The English born, Australian raised Cinematographer didn’t originally intend to study film. Initially he pursued journalism, but having caught the photobug from his dad and with a living grant from the state, he decided to focus on filmmaking. Working as a camera assistant in the 80’s he spent eight years ACing (among other things) before becoming a DP in his own right.

He’s shot hundreds of commercials and music videos, all over the world. In 2005 he moved to LA after working on the feature film, Intellectual Property, for which he won the Australian International Film Festival Silver Spotlight Award. When asked what he’d like to do more of, Nic told me he’d love to shoot a feature a year, but warned, “Any area you get into in the film industry, you’ve got to be careful that that might be you from now on.

But more than just a cinematographer, Nic found he had a passion for software development. He was particularly interested in creating highly specialized filmmaking tools for the iPhone. At the time, Apple hadn’t yet released a public SDK for the iPhone. In fact, his first app, Helios, was something he had thought about before the iPhone was even announced. As an avid user of the popular Sun tracking application, Sun Path, Nic felt he could create a tool with a more streamlined UI better suited to the functionality of the iPhone.

Once the iPhone SDK was released Nic partnered up with Toby Evetts and Simon Reeves to form Chemical Wedding, a software development company specializing in professional filmmaking tools for mobile devices. Their first app, Helios, was featured in the App Store and its artwork was used by Apple across multiple platforms, including in-store displays.

Artemis was Chemical Wedding’s second app. It is a digital director’s viewfinder backed by a robust database containing highly detailed information about many popular formats, cameras, and lenses. A user can select a camera / lens combination and easily simulate relative framing for a shot. Nic says Artemis isn’t a replacement for a physical director’s viewfinder (yet) in that it can’t replicate the characteristics of real glass. “What Artemis gives you is framing. What it can’t give you is esthetic feel.” It is, however, a quick and easy way to find a frame, log it, share it and begin the process of determining camera placement and lens selection.

Following the success of Helios and Artemis, Nic and his team began working on a tool that would combine the technical reference found in the ASC manual with the functionality of cinema cameras. Toland, name after famed cinematographer Gregg Toland, gives ACs and DPs insight into how changes made to the camera or lens affect other important parameters which impact cinematography. Nic cites Pcam, the popular film and digital calculator by Thin Man Inc., as one of his favorite tools on the Palm Pilot and a major influence on his decision to develop iOS apps with Chemical Wedding.

Nic’s philosophy on price point is something many developers can learn from. Artemis, for example, is $29.99 in the App Store. He points out that they could have sold it as a $2 app and in all likelihood moved more units. However, at such a low price, it wouldn’t realistically cover their development costs. In addition, the customer base would extend well beyond the professional market, making personalized tech support next to impossible. By selling their apps at real world prices, they’re able to limit their focus and target customers who are in the prosumer / professional demographic and thusly offer one-on-one assistance. “We were conscious not to make an application that was mass market. We wanted to make an application that was niche market that we can service.” You have to admire companies like Chemical Wedding for not kowtowing to the 99¢ app plague.

The most recent update to Artemis, version 6.4, introduced Chemical Wedding’s first hardware accessory. They’ve teamed up with Schneider Optics to develop a custom wide angle lens as part of the iPro Lens System. The adapter gives Artemis the ability to simulate lenses as wide as 12mm for 35mm sensors. While it’s Chemical Wedding’s first foray into hardware development, Nic promises it won’t be their last.

As an experienced still photographer Nic has worked on a variety of projects. He frequently collaborates with artist Julia Sandberg Hansson under the name SH/Sadler. It can only be described as what might happen if David Fincher directed a Marilyn Manson video for Nine Inch Nails. It’s pretty crazy and really beautiful work. His most recent creative endeavor is a spread in Triple J magazine the pair worked on for Daft Punk’s new album.

Just prior to concluding our interview, Nic says, “I can tell you about the house – do you want to hear about the house?” (see my article about Bob Vila as an indication of my obsession with anything related to home building). Before I could answer, Skype goes “ploink,” indicating an incoming file. It’s a picture of his home that might as well have been taken from the pages of Architectural Digest. A picturesque, clean-lined, 1970’s style, concrete meets salvaged barn wood, minimalist open floor plan, energy independent abode (...breath). Nic explains “The best thing that can happen to America is self sufficiency energywise...I was sick and tired of telling people that that was the way to go so I just decided to do it in my own house.” The entire building was all but torn down, redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up using renewable resources and highly efficient building materials. Insulation made from recycled jeans, countertops made from quartz dust, reclaimed lumber, solar-thermal radiant heating and solar arrays are just a few of the key components used to create his eco-friendly home. During the summer he generates about 130% of his usage and in the winter about 70%, effectively making his home net-zero. “Part of the intention was to make a place that had its heart in the right place in terms of energy, but which also has great design.” 

After being schooled for roughly three hours I thanked him for his time and set out to write an article about what I had learned. Cut to about a month ago when I was prepping for a shoot in LA with our friends at Beeby Clark and Meyler. The client was looking for a modern home to use as the location. For some odd reason I had Nic on my mind and remembering the pictures he had sent of his home, I blurted out “I’m might have an option!” I promptly reached out to Nic who seemed interested. Ultimately we didn’t end up using his house, however, Nic still came on as DP. We immediately hit it off in person. He fully embraced our offbeat personalities and sarcastic, dark sense of humor - what a relief.

Over the course of the shoot he demonstrated that no matter what kind of success you have in the industry and no matter what size production you’re working on, leave your ego at the door. Before we left for LA Danny and I both talked about how much we were looking forward to learning from Nic. I envisioned returning home having had all the secrets of lighting bestowed upon me. Ultimately the biggest lesson I learned, was that if you’re confident in what you do, there’s no need for a unnecessary bravado, ego stroking or belittling. Danny and I feel very strongly about not allowing any of that poison in our work. It completely ruins the vibe, fosters anxiety and leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Fortunately for all involved, Nic (and his crew) were nothing but professional and collaborative.

Bottom line: I’m so glad I was able to meet and work with him prior to writing this article. Nic is a sink-hole of knowledge. He’s got a wealth of experience and immense talent. He’s smart and creative. He’s witty and confident and I’m not just blowing smoke up his ass. You meet people everyday. Most people I can do without. Then you meet a guy like Nic and he inspires you. To learn. To experiment. To be creative. That there’s always a solution and hardly ever a problem. I encourage everyone to bombard Nic with emails, skype with him for hours on end and hire him for your next job. Nic Sadler is a piece of work – a rare specimen indeed.