Mike Potton photographed on a previous shoot
Cinematographer Richard Bluck NZCS, and 880 Productions NZ Ltd Partnership has very generously provided a training opportunity on the set of the Avatar 2 Pickups for two up-and-coming local cinematographers. Jess Charlton and Mike Potton from Wellington were the successful candidates for the 3 week positions and have both been very enthusiastic about the chance to immerse themselves in the latest technologies.
Jess Charlton: “It's going really well! It's been super inspiring and I have learnt so many things that I couldn't learn any other way.”
Mike Potton: “ Walking into the studio feels much like walking into the future, not just because of the film's genre but also the cutting edge nature of the workflow. It's been a bit like watching a magic show and learning piece by piece the secrets to how the illusion is put together. I've been able to observe how Richard projects a calm confidence in his decision making on set. Chatting to the wider crew uncovers more knowledge, it's been invaluable to drill down into technical details and to hear stories from their years of industry experience.”
Many thanks to Associate Producer/UPM Brigitte Yorke and her team for facilitating this placement under the umbrella of the NZCS Cinematographer Intern Program.
Covid-19 has bought big changes in our society. Feelings of disconnection and loss usually bring a fountain of strong opinions and confronting stories. The full impact of Covid-19 on technology, narratives, employment, and mental health has yet to be understood.
But right back in April 2020, the Global Policy Journal gave good advice which still holds true: ‘Optimism is more important today than ever, as is our collective mental health and well-being.’
After our first lockdown in March 2020 and a successful year keeping Aotearoa Covid-free, the industry experienced a lucrative boost. Now, to align with the new traffic light system crew have started to implement the newly updated ScreenSafe guidelines.
This is a mutable landscape. Fortunately, Aotearoa is used to four season in a day, and a change-with-the-weather attitude is part of our industry. Even before the new traffic light system came into force last week, most have readily come to accept a Covid test with the regularity of a morning coffee.
Technical tools have experienced a real push since the start of the pandemic. For instance, live feeds during production, now cover not only angles from the camera, but from around the set. For offshore directors, producers, clients, agencies and the like, this has become common practice.
Physical distancing restrictions haven’t just affected travel. If longer lenses weren’t already the preferred option for cinematographers, practicality may move the creative choices in that direction.
Additionally, Covid is changing some priorities. Framing for online platforms, rather than theatrical releases may come to define the look for this era of film-making.
Dave Garbett NZCS is of a different opinion. With Evil Dead Rise being one of the first productions to recommence during Level 3, new regulations have not interfered with his creative approach. The use of a remote head is a useful tool to overcome the challenge of physical distancing.
While cinematographers are taking up their challenges, intimacy coordinators have a different physical distancing perspective.
Level 3 guidelines did not allow physical touch between actors but the new traffic light system brings more latitude. Jennifer Ward-Lealand, President of Equity NZ and co-author of Intimacy Guidelines for Stage and Screen, has not said goodbye to physical contact onscreen. She says they deal with actors and boundaries all the time, and the restrictions add another layer to the creativity.
Further, she notes that film productions in Aotearoa are probably one of the safer places to work at the moment due to the rigorous safety protocols, such as regular Covid tests, vaccinations, wearing masks and use of safety officers.
Ride with the tide
The changes may appear drastic in the film production landscape but the industry has gone through many forced growth spurts in the past like the introduction of sound or colour, moving from standard definition to HDTV, moving from film to digital, and then on to 4K.
Perhaps our new motto should be: Things take longer than they used to. However, limitations can sometimes see new and unexpected creative, technical, logistical, financing and distribution avenues open up.
Let’s ride with the tide and approach the new year with well-deserved optimism.
~ Originally from Germany, Alyssa Kath is an emerging cinematographer and NZCS member. She is an NZCS committee member but her opinions are her own, not those of NZCS.
Mark Lapwood NZCS ACS has loved experimenting with timelapse photography for over 10 years, so about a week into lockdown he got his game on, decided to clear out the garage and turn it into a controlled lighting environment to film seeds sprouting in timelapse.
The idea was to have a controlled lighting situation, so the light remains consistent for as many days as it takes for the seeds to sprout.
I blacked out a small space and set up one LED panel as a three-quarter back light, with a couple of small white balance boards for fill.
To shoot I used two Canon DSLR’s an old school 6D & 70D, one as a wider shot on about a 35mm lens and one as a close up with a 100mm macro.
After some experimentation and many calculations I set my intervalometer to take one shot every 90 seconds over a period of about five days.
Then I got my hands dirty and planted whole lot of radish seeds in seed raising mix on a plate and put it in my little studio space.
The challenge of watering these seeds so they keep growing introduced a problem, because if I sprayed them every time they would jump in the final shot.
So my solution was to use a syringe and gently inject water around the outside of the plate in areas that were outside the frame.
Another challenge was the issue of camera power running out, and space running out on SD cards. Because every time I would have to touch the camera there’s the risk of bumping the shot. Fortunately I managed to find an old power supply for my Canon SLR, so that enabled the camera to stay on for many days as needed.
And I used the largest SD card I could get my hands on, 256 gb.
All in all I shot three varieties of seeds, Radish, Rocket and Beetroot, the longest went for five days with a total of 5770 frames!
The most delicate part of the entire operation was the daily checkups morning and night see if ‘my babies’, had enough water, checking batteries and cards without bumping anything. I did clip a tripod on my way out of the tiny little space on one occasion which required a bit of time in after effects sorting the glitch.
On the whole the results are mesmerising! What creative projects have you been up to during lockdown? Would you care to share in the next newsletter? If so please email Amber Wakefield on: email@example.com We’d love to see your creative pursuits!
Below are some pix of behind the scenes to enjoy.
You can also view the 'Radish seeds growing time-lapse' here.
~ Thanks, Mark Lapwood NZCS ACS
Feature film ‘Sons of the Sea’ recently won the Best South African Film Award at DIFF, and is currently playing at the Austin Film Festival.
Set in a small fishing village on the outskirts of Cape Town, we follow brothers Mikhail and Gabriel who discover a dead body and two bags of abalone. They take the loot into the shadows under a sliver of a moon, but are tracked down and pursued by a corrupt government official. Eventually cornered, the brothers turn violently on each other. But they also shoulder one another, softly and seamlessly. In both brothers we see reflections of us all, as we watch their journey to maintain their tenuous clasp on survival unfold.
Cinematographer Sebastian Cort discusses his experience shooting ‘Sons of the Sea’.
I had the pleasure of working on my first feature film with long time collaborator, writer/director John Gutierrez. John and I first worked together in London and he later relocated to Cape Town, where we came together again to shoot ‘Sons of the Sea’ in 2019. We both have a strong background in documentary, and our approach here was very similar to developing a documentary film - from forming relationships and being welcomed into the community, to shooting with intuition in a documentary style which gives the film a “social realist naturalism feel”
Coming from the world of documentary, this was the perfect story for me to sink my teeth into. The film is grounded so heavily in the real world, that I wanted to capture the raw, grittiness of the story and honour the underlying truth in what the characters were experiencing. John and I have very similar aesthetics, in prep we mostly communicated through references and stills. A lot of the discussions were based around capturing the emotions of the characters, with emphasis on the change each would go through in the story.
It was a really special project to be a part of. John, who is of Mexican American and Yaqui heritage, and I both feel strongly about telling the stories of indigenous peoples. These stories are ones that need to be heard, and are not told enough. John summed up our aims for the film in an interview with New Frame, “I wanted to show connections between Indigenous communities across the world, reflecting on the legacy of colonialism and show how we share a common experience of systemic racism. There’s a symmetry around the pain and struggle even to this day and a magnificence in our survival.”
Before production John spent several months visiting the community listening to oral testimonies- hearing their stories and understanding their point of view. Through these stories he began to draw parallels to his own people’s history, which became a way in to making the story his own. One teenager from the community, Noor Emandien, had a special interest in developing his skills as a filmmaker and wanted to get more involved, so he became our advisor and was later cast in the film.
From the beginning our producers Khosie Dali and Imran Hamdulay wanted to decentralise white narratives both in the filmmaking and the casting. We had a majority Black & mixed race South African crew as well as an all Black cast. The Kalk Bay community (where the film takes place) also own a share in the net profits of the film - they were such a huge part of telling this story, so it’s fitting that they can benefit from its successes.
As a DOP, I’ve always been passionate about capturing stories that question a sense of belonging, provide windows into the human psyche and inspire us all to grow as humans. Filming ‘Sons of the Sea’ allowed for all of that and more. It’s inspired me to pursue narrative film deeper with hopes of contributing to telling more stories like these, those which have long been brushed under the carpet and slowly eroded from history.
Check out these other articles about this beautiful project.
Trailer - https://vimeo.com/491005222
The NZCS was fortunate to facilitate a live webinar discussing Virtual Studio Cinematography with NZ-born, US-based DP Barry “Baz“ Idoine, while he was in Auckland recently during lock-down in October.
Baz has rapidly achieved a high profile as cinematographer for his work on “The Mandalorian”, winning an Emmy for Outstanding Cinematography for a Single Camera Series in 2020 amongst other awards, and has recently wrapped shooting in Sydney on “Thor: Love and Thunder”.
He was joined by a local panel with an interest in Virtual Production, including DP Dave Garbett, Harry Harrison from X3 Studios, Richard Lander from Avalon Studios and Victor and Amber-Marie Naveira from The Granary.
Baz was very forthcoming with his experience and knowledge in this field and explained the in-depth intricacies and challenges of the virtual production process in great detail.
Some of the interesting insights from the discussion included the following:
• Baz had the luxury of working with a top-end system in LA, which featured a volume (seamless collection of LED screens) 23m in diameter, 7m high with a 270 degree array of screens including a fully domed ceiling. A similar studio set-up is also in use in Sydney now.
• A wrap-around volume as above, is invaluable for reflective surfaces such as the Mandalorian character’s shiny chrome costume, but its a mis-conception that the volume will provide all the lighting needed. Invariably, supplementary lighting is needed off camera or behind the subject to provide contrast and modelling.
• The frustum (specific area of screens in the camera’s field of view, which will move as the camera tracks) is allocated higher resolution than the screens outside the field of view, to economise on processing power. The outside screens can have independently controlled brightness levels and areas which helps their use as light sources or “light cards” both as fill light or anti-fill negative sources.
• This is primarily a single-camera medium, although two cameras are often used, with the limitations being; there can only be one frustum in view at a time, and the “B” camera must be able to see that same area of screens as the “A” camera.
• The Emmy Award for “Single Camera Series” needs to be renamed, as its a legacy from the earlier days of single-camera film production versus multi-cam studio sitcoms like “Cheers” and “Friends” - whereas most productions invariably use more than one camera nowadays.
• Volume shooting is not limited to fanstasy/science fiction genres, and can be adapted to any script requirements with certain limitations: for example, situations involving interaction with a large crowd of extras are probably not best suited to shooting in a volume. Its also not easy to replicate daytime exterior hard sunlight situations on a Virtual Stage, which is more suited to soft ambient lighting.
A recording of the 90min webinar discussion is available for NZCS members on the NZCS website here.
Thanks to Baz and all the contributers to the discusssion, and host Alex Glucina from KiwiCinematographer podcast series.
~ Donny Duncan NZCS, Professional Development Manager
The NZCS is pleased to announce we have negotiated several mid-career cinematographer placements on an international feature based in Wellington.
The Attachments provide the opportunity to shadow the Director of Photography on set and experience advanced aspects of the craft including pre-production time where possible.
These will be paid Attachments for a maximum duration of 15 days each. The 1st placement is expected to commence in Wellington around 11th October 2021, although this is dependent upon the current Covid-19 lock-down status in Auckland and may get delayed. The 2nd three week placement will commence approximately 1st November, 2021, subject to the commencement dates of the shoot.
The placements are intended for Wellington locals or candidates who can relocate themselves and self-accommodate. The selected candidates will be issued a standard contract by the Production Company and will join the payroll, per other contractors.
The aim of the Attachment is to:
To provide an opportunity for a mid-career cinematographer to upskill their confidence and ability to produce high quality feature film cinematography, and to provide another training pathway to the limited opportunities currently available. This is not a creative input role, but will be a mentored position, closely shadowing the DP and key technicians at work, observing pre-production and the creative decision making process on set.
Note: Unlike previous NZCS attachments under the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program, this particular opportunity is not limited to female applicants only, however the NZCS remains committed to a mandate to grow and diversify the pool of emerging cinematographers in New Zealand.
To be eligible, applicants must:
Please submit the following in electronic form only (Word file or PDF) by 9am Thursday 23rd September, 2021 to firstname.lastname@example.org with 'Wellington Cinematographer Attachment - application' in the subject line:
A shortlist will be developed from applicants and an interview (in person or virtual) may be required, at which time further details of the production itself will be provided.
The NZCS is very pleased to announce that their application to the NZFC Screen Sector Covid 19 Capability Fund in August, for continuing support of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program was successful, and we are able to continue this rewarding program forward for another year.
We are now actively seeking production company partners and cinematographers who are willing to mentor up-and-coming female DP’s to help redress the serious imbalance in representation of the genders in our craft. Please click here for more information on the program and stay tuned for upcoming opportunities. For more information, you can reach out to our Professional Development Manager, Donny Duncan NZCS, here.
The NZCS currently has three mentored placements in progress on “Evil Dead Rise” feature film, but the Auckland Covid-19 Level 4 lockdown has halted production in the meantime.
Alyssa Kath and Daniela “Nani” Conforte are both shadowing DP Dave Garbett as mid-career cinematographers and Alice Toomer is camera trainee on the 2nd Unit under the tutelage of 1st AC Bayley Broome-Peake and DP Ziga Zupancic.
The NZCS gives thanks to the NZ Film Commission for their ongoing support.
Every three years the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE or IA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) renegotiate the Hollywood Basic Agreement - the core contract between the IA locals and the studios.
The IA serves as the parent labour organisation for the many smaller local unions in Hollywood and around the U.S. and Canada. These locals represent specific crafts within a designated geographic area. 2021 is a contract year and negotiations are no where near a resolution.
The previous contract between the AMPTP and the 13 Hollywood locals expired on 31 July with no agreement, but an extension to 10 September was granted to allow more negotiating time. 10 September has now come and gone with no agreement. The IA has been in frequent communication with members regarding the grim situation around bargaining, and the word “strike” has become increasingly common on both union forums and Hollywood publications in the past few weeks. The IA has advised its members to continue work as per the previous contract while bargaining continues. In the meantime, all the Hollywood locals are arranging town hall meetings with their membership over the next week.
The negotiations have thus far failed because the IA and its members are demanding substantial, systemic reforms to the industry regarding insufficient wages, unsafe working schedules, and sustainable benefits for members. The 1990s and early 2000s saw significant erosion in union benefits and working conditions, and now in the aftermath of working through the COVID-19 pandemic the membership is demanding reform. Among these reforms are a reduction of hours worked, guaranteed 10 hour turn arounds, and a restructuring of how productions contribute to the union’s healthcare and pension fund.
As we are all too familiar with in New Zealand, wages have not kept pace with the increases in cost of living. While current contracts have provisions for annual raises, they have barely kept pace with inflation. The IA is currently trying to tie wages to the current living wage in Los Angeles and base future raises from there. A recent press release by Local 871 in Los Angeles (script supervisors, coordinators, and accountants) details that some members are making approximately half of the current Los Angeles living wage. Unsuccessful calls for shorter working days began after the death of Focus Puller Brent Hershman in 1997 -who fell asleep while driving home after several consecutive 16 hour days. Six other IA members have suffered the same fate since then, and inspired Haskel Wexler’s documentary “Who Needs Sleep” in 2006. More recently, 13 top cinematographers including Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins penned an open letter to the studios advocating an hours reduction to the unsafe work schedules. Unfortunately, all of these cries over the last 25 years have fallen on deaf ears.
Union crews in the US also rely on the union for their health insurance and pensions, which are funded by contributions from the studios based on residuals. When productions intended for online streaming platforms began in earnest in the late 2000s, “New Media” contracts with lower rates and reduced benefit contributions were created to help grow the then nascent form of production. However, as the number of productions intended for streaming grows, the healthcare and pension fund has become unsustainable. The IA is looking to restructure contributions from streaming productions to the fund to make it sustainable again.
While in New Zealand we were virtually unaffected by COVID-19, crews in Hollywood worked through the pandemic as soon as it was possible. This included daily testing swabs, frequent stand downs due to cases onset, and the widespread introduction of “French” 10 hour days to U.S. sets for the first time. However, now that COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles are declining, the length of shoot days has returned to the usual 12.5 plus but without the return of lunch breaks.
Having had a brief glimpse of conditions we take for granted here in New Zealand, LA crews are gearing up to strike to improve their contracts. The 13 Hollywood locals (three of which are national: Camera, Editors, and Art Directors Guilds) are fully united for the first time and while a strike is looking increasingly possible, there is hope that a better contract can be struck. Closer to home, this should serve as both a cautionary tale to our New Zealand industry, and as a reason to appreciate the working conditions we have here.
You can read some related articles here:
Deadline "IATSE & Producers Set To Resume Contracts Talks Today"
Variety "IATSE And AMPTP Remain Very Far Apart in Contract Talks"
KCWR article "Hollywood sets: What it's like working 14-hour days, and whether a strike is coming'
Indie Wire "Emmanuel Lubezki, Roger Deakins, and More DPs Urge Hollywood to Address Hazards of Long Workdays"
~ Michael Paletta, 1st AC
7th September 2021 – SCREEN INDUSTRY DISTRIBUTION
Kia ora koutou katoa to all in the Screen Industry, hoping you are all staying safe in your bubbles!
Please note the ScreenSafe COVID-19 Health and Safety team is currently looking at what Protocols need to be reviewed, particularly in light of the new Delta variant.
For now, please refer to the ScreenSafe website https://screensafe.co.nz/covid-19-coronavirus/ – particularly the Protocols and Summary Guidelines around L4, L3, and Level 2.
These are still a really great guide for what is allowed at each level.
You can download today’s update in PDF here.
Level 4: NO filming is possible/other than registered news organisations and essential programming.
Level 3: Very limited production activities may be possible. Please carefully assess whether your activities can be postponed to L2. If not, please carefully assess each action and whether it complies with the guidelines and works to minimise risk at all points.
The key issue to consider for Level 3 is physical distancing. For instance – location scouting, with appropriate PPE, and in controlled circumstances, can be undertaken – depending on the ability to minimise contact / risk / avoidance of breaking bubbles.
Any activity needs to be able to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. This limits both prep and filming activities – e.g. close contact between crew such as a camera team who cannot be physically distanced, or performers and makeup/hair. Please see L3 guidance for full details.
Yesterday the government made some more changes to the COVID-19 rules. The below changes will be reflected in the updated Protocols, but since we know a lot of you are preparing for filming in Level 2, the below will hopefully answer your most pressing questions for Level 2 filming.
Mask wearing is now mandatory for anyone aged 12+ in indoor public places like shops, malls and public spaces: https://covid19.govt.nz/alert-levels-and-updates/alert-level-2/#work-and-business.
For screen work, ScreenSafe highly recommends mask wearing at Level 2. And some productions may require it.
Gatherings (social gatherings, concerts, hospitality businesses, etc.) are now restricted to 50 people for indoor venues and 100 for outdoor venues.
However, work sites like film productions do NOT adhere to number restrictions, PROVIDED they are a working in a fully controlled environment (with contact tracing and health questionnaire for everyone on site, and with all necessary hygiene and PPE measures in place).
Note: Due to the aggressive nature of the Delta virus, productions are advised to take careful consideration before filming with extras and/or large crew numbers during Level 2.
Physical distancing in public places, e.g. retail stores, libraries, gyms and museums will be 2 metres.
However, for work sites like film productions the physical distancing requirement is still 1 metre, PROVIDED they are a working in a fully controlled environment (with contact tracing and health questionnaire for everyone on site, and with all necessary hygiene and PPE measures in place).
Note: Close Proximity work (work within 0-1 metres) like hair and make up are still allowed for, and for screen work is specifically addressed in the Close Proximity Environment sections of the Screen Industry COVID-19 Protocols.
While Auckland remains in a higher COVID level to the rest of the country, essential workers traveling out of the Auckland region will need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test from the last week. Note: Only news and media outlets are classified as essential work, so for most of Auckland screen workers regional travel is not allowed until Auckland is in Level 2.
As per the updated Government guidance – some recommended guidelines are now mandatory or should be applied in all circumstances, namely:
Check-In/Contact Tracing – while everyone seemed to be doing well on this before, it is now mandatory in all circumstances for all sites, so ensure this is very closely adhered to.
Risk Minimisation – e.g. Hygiene Procedures, Airflow, Contact Minimisation. Look to assess your pre-production, shooting (when allowed), and post production, around how you can increase hygiene and minimise contact. From wearing PPE, to limiting numbers and increasing airflow. These are all our tools to help minimise the risk of exposure and spread.
Testing/Vaccinations/Privacy & Health Concerns – our revision is also likely to contain further guidance in this area. Until clarification is provided, please follow current MBIE guidance and ensure that human rights and privacy rights are respected at all times.
Registration with ScreenSafe – please also ensure every production continues to register with ScreenSafe –
Any specific queries or concerns, please reach out to ScreenSafe at email@example.com or your industry organisation.
Last updated on 7 September 2021
A significant gap in the industry has been identified when concerned with “Virtual Production Capabilities” in New Zealand. Most training institutes and programs only focus on using game engine technologies for teaching game development.
In contrast, the film and media industry only focus on the traditional Camera, Scriptwriting, Lights, Acting and Art Departments, which has created a void for the emerging field of Virtual production and the talent who understands the complexities of bridging the gap between traditional storytelling mediums and gamification.
As a think tank training program, Virtual Production Dojo aims to fill this void by offering hands-on training in Virtual Production and Gamification, and more significantly, supporting the ethnic communities in New Zealand and globally.
The program aims to add resilience and confidence in the next generation of graduates and those ready for a career change, bringing a more resilient and curious talent pool into the market prepared for the coming age of virtual production, animation, gamification, and mixed entertaining experiences by building Virtual Production Capabilities and talent pool and engaging Ethnic Communities and provide better economic growth opportunities.
For anyone who may be considering to upskill in the emerging field of Virtual Production they are currently accepting enrolments for their pilot program starting in September 2021.
More information about Virtual Production Dojo and the Training Program can be found here: https://virtualproductiondojo.com/
Ariel Camera LimitedCR Kennedy NZ Ltd
Māui Virtual Production Ltd
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