Camera Work on Presgrave Place

Working on the Documentary with Sabine was completely different from the music videos with Alex. On Presgrave Place, I worked as the DOP as well as the sound recordist. For this project, though it’s been a success in the end, I felt we weren’t very well prepared at all. As the producer, Sabine worked hard to get as many interviews with the artists that install there as possible, but due to this everything else took a back seat.

So, for this reflection, I have talked about the positives as well as the negatives that I got out of the process and the I reflect on how I would handle these in the future.

Positives:

  1. The quality of the footage has been very good, with no out of focus images, good eye for details and unlike the winter project, not in one frame has any detail been lost due to lack of light. This is a big positive for me because it was the first time I handled the camera alone and I have grown in confidence and learnt a great deal from the experience – both good and bad.
  2. As I mentioned before, we have a lot of relevant footage and great interviews, enough to keep working on this outside of the masters degree as webisodes in the future, depending on the success of the doco.
  3. Team work – Sabine and I have known from semester 1 that we form a great team and have a great deal of trust between us, making the working environment fun and easy as well as very inviting for our interviewees.
  4. We did everything using natural lighting, which is what I had proposed and really wanted to try with this project.

Negatives:

  1. The lighting kept changing. Where it was great to experiment working with natural light, the sun kept changing direction or hiding behind clouds, changing the look constantly. Where this is not a completely bad thing for a realistic documentary, I would prefer to have consistency, to make post production easier and hence, use more artificial lighting.
  2. We forgot to change frames. All the interviewees are sitting on the left side of the frame looking towards the right diagonally, with the same background and the same frame length and depth, making the lack of change and movement very dull for a viewer.
  3. Bad camera. We had a Canon 5D Mark 2 which is a very frustrating camera to be using especially while shooting interviews. The main reason for this is it stops recording automatically every 10 or so minutes, which would break the interviewees answers in the middle constantly. The other is that it still uses the old block like SD cards for which we require card readers, are difficult to copy to an apple device and take ages to transfer!
  4. Sound was really good but being out in an open space meant we caught a lot of birds and had to constantly ask our very patient artists to repeat themselves.

Overall, I do not think any of the problems were major issues that we had to deal with but a more thorough planning in the future might be the key to making a documentary with much better quality.

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Natural Lighting vs Artificial Lighting

When I first started this project, I was taken by the romance of the idea of using natural lighting. “It’s realistic, beautiful and I love the sunlight”, I said. “It’s a bigger challenge and that’s what uni is about”, I exclaimed. “There’s no sunlight, I’m doomed”, I screamed. “The clouds just covered the sun!”, I pulled my hair out. “It’s going to be sunny in an hour again” I waited as everyone gave me THE LOOK.

It’s not as easy as one might think to use natural light. You’re dependent on nature and that’s the last thing you want to depend on. Not when you are on a budget, a time schedule and have a team around you, waiting for you to get it right. “He created two sets in opposite directions, so you could shoot on one for the first half of the day and the other through the second half”, well I wish I could do that! You need a budget to use the natural! How weird is that!!!! Equipment costs a bomb. I recently found out that just the battery for the LED light panel costs about $600 or so. But natural lighting is just a whole new ballgame. Figure that!

I find it hilarious that one uses artificial light to create a natural look. And how weird is it that natural light can look so awfully artificial because one doesn’t actually realize how a natural light lights things up, because in reality, when do you actually think of it. It can be so white, so bright, so yellow! But that could be just my way of looking at things. Over the course of the last three weeks, I have really understood what natural represents and I notice it all the time now.

When it comes down to it, I think there really is no right answer on which is better. It’s a preference as well as logistics of availability. It also boils down to how you use the light to your advantage to create the image.

The other positive of using natural light that appealed to me unconsciously, which is why I call it the romance of it is, we live in a world where natural as a word rules. The minute you say natural, it is appealing, brings curiosity, or at the very least a source of amusement to people today. We have lived amongst the artificial too long. There was a time when preservatives, artificial, what one could create without having access to was very appealing but the time is long gone. Have you all heard your grandmothers look at a fake plant and go dreamily on about how real it looks? I have. But now, we promote the natural, and we win awards on it, we love it, all of us do. But the question comes down to beauty, mood and the message we send out, what’s possible and the choice we make depends on reality.

Cinematography, budgets and locations

Theory and reality, how different they are! During the first presentation, I promised a lot because it was a dream, it was all theory and creativity. But as always I was struck with reality with the cost of creativity. No matter that you get all the equipment from uni, you won’t get everything you want – boiling down to as simple as having the right gels to put on the lights or the particular lense you wanted or the ND filter you love so much. Then there is locations, no budget equals not much choice with locations. And of course, when you don’t pay your crew and actors, you work on days everyone can make it on the set, which means there isn’t a choice, rain or hail, you’re shooting on a day chosen for you.

Who can afford costumes? Work with what you have. Oooh, no one has blue eye shadow – work with what you have. And just like that compromises are made with the vision, the creativity you had spent weeks dreaming of.

In my presentation I spoke of three things – Using natural lighting to create beautiful halo like effects and use the camera to set the right balances and look. I wanted to shoot half the video with a tungsten white balance and the rest, warmer. Then I spoke about the blue to red arc, to flow with the healing theme we had using gels, lighting, white balance and of course grades in editing. Keeping the same idea in mind, I mixed it with the third point I made, about production design, make up and wardrobe.

On a fine sunny day, in rolled Alex to my house, to take me to see the agreed upon locations that I would have to work with. There was my house for one video and the surrounding park, gym and street. Now these locations all had an abundance of natural light and I was pretty excited and confident about them. Then we went to his house and the park near there. The first park we decided was sloped and shadows might irritate us, so we went to another park which was perfect. Now the main problem came to be Alex’s house. No natural light what so ever. As beautiful as his house was, I knew we needed not one but tons of light to make it look like the way I had pictured it.

I asked him to borrow 2 LED panels and 1 dido kit. The dido kit was for safety, but we ended up using it a lot, so thank god for contingency planning. We were also lucky, because for some scenes the three didos and the 2 panels were just not enough, we also used the few lamps Alex has lying around and they were the best! So good rule to have here I learnt, always have more than you think you need and always think of the ways you can use items you have lying around. Lamps go a long way, but you could also bounce light of a mirror or a television screen!

This brings me to the next problem. The days we were shooting at Alex’s place, it stormed and stormed. Storm = Rain and Wind = No natural light = Fuck my life! We managed, we got beautiful shots, I am very happy with what we could do. When the first day started, I was absolutely drowning, but Alex’s friend – Harrison stood by me, teaching me more tricks than I could remember and together we pulled it off!

The wardrobes of all team members were mixed, enough blues and reds turned up and this wasn’t as hard as anticipated earlier. I had asked everyone to message me photos of theie wardrobes and hadn’t gotten any till the day before shoot when people were like OOPS, No reds love! But a beautiful team comes together and makes sure everyone’s vision is seen through and our team was the most wonderful!

My Lesson: Don’t be put down by budgets and locations and stuff, just power on and keep looking for ways around everything. Nothing in the world can really stop you from achieving your vision!