On Tuesday 27th the NZCS along with Big Picture and Optic Shock hosted a dynamic evening showcasing the latest in LED Virtual Background technology.
NZCS members gathered to learn from experts Ross Mackay, David Eversfield and Paul Carpe about the hardware involved.
Plus acclaimed Cinematographer Dave Garbett and his lead tech on ‘Sweet Tooth’ Olivier Jean spoke from a Cinematography perspective about their discoveries in these new ways of transplanting characters and props into alternative environments.
Thanks to Sponsor Panavision NZ participants were able to experiment using an Arri Amira with Primo lenses to capture images of our lovely model Sam in front of a desert landscape in the Avondale Big Picture facility. We were able to adjust the LED screen brightness, key and fill lighting along with camera settings and virtual tracking capabilities to create the most believable results on screen.
All in all, it was a very inspiring experience to see these tools in action and gain some hands-on experience with what very well may become standard issue tools in the future of film production.
Thanks to all who helped make this event possible. If you'd like to find out more about this technology, please let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
By Trevor Hogg, special to Canadian Cinematographer Society
With permission to re-publish from the Canadian Cinematographer Society
Photo credit: Mayo Hint
First appearing in New Teen Titans #21 (1982), Vanessa Van Helsing has graduated from comic books to carrying on the family tradition of eradicating vampires on the small screen in an American-Canadian co-production that is airing its fifth and final season on Syfy. Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men) created Van Helsing and was subsequently replaced in Season Four by Jonathan Walker (Wu Assassins). Also changing over up on the mythology of vampires and Van Helsing by re-watching some of the classics, such as Nosferatu and Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola,” Uegama explains. “I spent many hours gathering references and narrowed down hundreds of images for a look book that I presented to everyone. We tested a lot of things, such as blood, vampire makeup, and lighting them with firelight and sidelight.
Credit: Courtesy of Nomatic Pictures
Kelly Overton as Vanessa Van Helsing in Van Helsing, Season 1.
Since it was a post-apocalyptic world and there was no power in the cities in our storyline, shooting night scenes in the course of the series have been the cinematographers, with Brendan Uegama csc (Child’s Play) being responsible for Seasons One and Two, associate member Ronald Richard (Dangerous Lies) shooting Season Three, Gerald Packer csc (Schitt’s Creek) lensing Season Four, and Neil Cervin csc (Arrow) taking charge of Season Five. “For the pilot, my research started with freshening the city could not be accomplished at true night due to the thousands of city lights we would need to paint out. Day for night became our solution.” Four weeks were spent in prep with director Michael Nankin (Stargirl), while principal photography for the pilot lasted 21 days. “Michael and I decided to allow scenes to play out and not get into ‘traditional coverage’ if we could avoid it,” Uegama states. “We talked about the characters’ emotional arc and if something was important to really highlight it, we would talk about how to do so.”
Credit: Daniel Power
(L-R) Camera operator Glen Dickson, Brendan Uegama CSC, and director Kaare Andrews
The aspect ratio was 1.78:1, while footage was captured 5K and often with three cameras. Seasons One and Two were captured on RED DRAGON cameras with Ultra Prime lenses, according to Uegama. Production was based in Vancouver. “Our studio was the old Canada Post building located right downtown,” the DP says. “Production designer James Hazell [Siren] built most of our sets for the first half of the season there. Story-wise, the characters were living in an abandoned hospital in downtown Seattle. At the end of Episode 107, they need to escape the hospital, and we spend the remaining episodes of the season on the road.” A constant from the beginning of Van Helsing has been lead actress Kelly Overton, who was pregnant while shooting the second season. “Kelly is a rock star,” Uegama remarks. “She would come in and do her work day after day. Our typical approach was to shoot out her dialogue or any shots we would see her face, then let her go, and clean up the scenes with her double. On a visual side, we had to try and be as conscious as possible at hiding her belly. Wardrobe helped the best they could by dressing her in black with a partial cloak that would help hide from side angles.”
Blood, gore and violence are natural extensions of the subject matter. “We wanted to make sure the blood read on screen, but we wanted to keep it darker when used on vampires and redder when it came from humans,” Uegama says. “We also decided in prep that we wouldn’t use squibs for any gunshots. We knew right away that would always be done with visual effects. But when it came to blood on an actor or on the ground, we used a lot of it! As for the gore and violence, the network wanted it to be gory.”
Using the visual language established by Uegama as a guide, Richard took over for Season Three. “I knew Brendan from shooting second unit on Riverdale and talked to him about the process for Van Helsing,” Richard recalls. “Neil LaBute loves doing things that he hasn’t done before, which opened a giant sandbox for me as a DP. I told him what I liked and would do differently. I wanted to have long takes and lots of camera movement accelerating the story forward. I do a lot of gimbal on a pipe where you treat it like a Technocrane that can go anywhere except vertically. We would elaborate and create these long shots. Neil liked that approach. We were in a doctor’s office set and I remember looking through an orange needle tray with the camera to see what that would look like. Neil loved it and said, ‘Let’s make a filter out of that piece of plastic.’ He wanted it burned in.”
Credit: Courtesey Nomadic Pictures
Aleks Paunovic as Julian in Van Helsing, Season 2
Six days of principal photography were devoted to each episode. “There was no alternating DP, so a lot of it was based on instinct because you would only get to prep ahead so far,” Richard says. “Your gaffer and key grip would come back, and the production designer would show you a couple of photos. You would have to come up with a plan for what you’re going to do in three days when you go and shoot there without ever seeing the location.”
Shooting blocks were determined by locations rather than episodic order. “The show was literally 90 per cent location shooting, and they would augment by putting in or changing a wall. It was hard because you’re limited by where the windows are, and you can’t pop in a ceiling. The production designer [Grant Pearse] made sure that I had options,” Richard offers.
Credit: Courtesey of Nomadic Pictures
Van Helsing, Season 3.
A big change in Season Three was the emergence of Daywalkers, which meant that the series was no longer confined to nighttime settings. “It opened the door for us to embrace sunlight,” Richard eplains. “Shooting outdoors was faster as I didn’t have to set up a bunch of stuff. You position things according to the sun; that was the hardest part with some directors as the sun would be in the wrong spot for the blocking that they had in mind.”
Credit: Courtesy Ronald Richard
(L-R) Ronald Richard with director, Jason Priestley on the set of Van Helsing, Season 3
The footage was captured with the ALEXA Mini camera and ARRI Master Primes lenses. “I wanted to shoot with a lower light and shallow depth of field, so I upgraded to the Master Primes,” he explains. “It has the same look as the Ultra Primes, but you can shoot a lot faster. We used wide lenses for 80 per cent of the show.” Problems were solved by creative solutions. “It stimulates you in a way that is enjoyable. Van Helsing embraced the risk because the potential reward was greater than playing the safe way.”
Replacing Richard for Season Four was Packer, who got to work with new showrunner Jonathan Walker. “Jonathan wanted to change things up a lot. It was a whole new crew; he and [executive producer] Michael Frislev wanted more camera movement and more fights handheld,” Packer recalls. “Just more immediate frenetic stuff. We followed lighting and certain things, like the last episode of Season Three was a cliffhanger where they are fighting in a mausoleum, and Episode 401 picks up in the middle of that fight.”
Credit: Courtesy Nomadic Pictures
(L-R) Aleks Paunovic as Julius and Rowland Pidlubny as Scab in Season 4.
A significant story decision was made with the focus shifting towards the children of Vanessa Van Helsing hunting vampires, he adds. “There is a lot of license for what you can do once you start changing the story. However, you don’t want to change everything when you have three seasons of fans.”
Lighting is essential in retaining a consistent look going from director to director. “A lot of directors are going to have their own ideas about how they want to cover a scene,” Packer observes. “You have a time limit, so you try to do it as economically as possible.” There was a balance shift in favour of studio shooting with the production being based in Surrey, B.C. “I used an ALEXA Mini and had a set of Leica Summilux lenses. We used a Ronin on a crane, dolly and handheld or on a SlingShot rig,” he says. “When using the Ronin, you have to rebalance it every time you put a new lens on. But you can pop Simmilux lenses off in moments without adjusting. The camera was always moving. I wanted to get some nice staccato images. We tried to get a lot of coverage for the action and worked with two cameras all of the time, plus a third for fights. I had a 29 mm right in there to get a closeup and moved the camera with the actors as they fought.”
Credit: David Power
Gerald Packer CSC (right) and a camera assistant on the set of Van Helsing, Season 4
Fights are trademark of Van Helsing, with stunt visualization put together by the stunt department. “With stunts and fights you have to get the right angle so that the punches look like they’re actual punches not Batman and Robin stuff,” Packer notes. “What was great about the stunt guys is that they really understood where a punch did and didn’t work and knew where the camera should be.”
Various methods were deployed to distinguish between the past, present and future. “For the past, I desaturated the colours, had more contrast and a different blue than was in the room. It was treated again in post. The director wanted to do the flashback episode in one take, so the 42-minute show is a series of seven one-ers. It added a whole level of tension. It makes you feel that you’re in the room with these girls getting chased by zombies.”
Reflecting on Season Four, Packer adds, “The biggest challenge was getting the work done and the right amount of footage during the day. You had to keep moving forward.”
Credit: Courtesy Nomadic Pictures
Keeya King as Violet Van Helsing in Season 4.
After lensing episodes for Seasons Two, Three and Four, Cervin – who this summer won a Leo Award for Best Cinematography Dramatic Series for the Season Four episode “Miles and Miles” – was in the midst of shooting the fifth and final season when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the production. “I shot Episodes 501, 502 and 503 in Slovakia before they closed that country down, and I got involved with the Kamloops, B.C., shoot where we did episodes 505 and 506. Afterwards I got asked to do the rest of the show.”
Often shots were combined, and the resolution went from 4K to 6K if a frame was going to be extracted later in postproduction. “There was one scene that we were doing in Kamloops last year where the sun was going in and out of clouds, so I had an 18K in line with the sun,” Cervin recalls. “It was the only way to keep it going and stay on schedule.”
Tricia Helfer as Dracula in Van Helsing, Season 5.
The camera package was altered for the principal photography in Slovakia as the scenes take place during the Middle Ages. “Most of it was going to be shot with candles and moonlight,” Cervin explains. “It’s a vampire show so there were going to be a lot of night shoots. I went for a camera that would give me 6K, which was the RED MONSTRO with a Helium sensor that actually does 8K and looks good in low light. I used Vantage lenses that are T1, which is amazing because normally lenses are T1.4. I got those for the big castle exteriors. When we were doing stuff in the castles I was going for wide lenses, 12 mm, 14 mm and 17 mm. These castles were the most amazing locations that I’ve ever been in my life.” Lighting needed to be augmented. “There are these fantastic lights made by Astera called Titan and Helios,” he says. “The Titan is a 4-foot tube and the Helios is a 2-foot tube; they throw out a bit of light, come with some light controls, you can put eight of the four-footers in one big soft light rig, which a guy can pick up with one hand, and both of them have internal batteries that can last for ages. The Astera tubes were nicer than actual candlelight flicker and are easy to rig.”
Following the COVID-19 film production lockdown, the remaining episodes were set to be captured with a revamped camera system. “We are getting lovely images from the Sony FX9, but it’s not as production friendly as the VENICE,” Cervin states. “It does 6K but samples down to 4K. We’re shooting Super 35 all the way through.” The camera change will not be visually jarring as the rest of the season occurs in the future. “We’re also going to be using a Z CAM. It’s made in China and has 15 stops of latitude. It’s basically a 3-inch cube with a hole for a PL lens mount. We’re going to use that on a Ronin. It’s such a tiny camera that it can go anywhere; that’s 6K and is connected to a wireless.”
Credit: Mayo Hirc
(L-R) Director Jonathan Scarfe and Neil Cervin CSC on the set of Van Helsing, Season 5.
Life on set has been impacted by the pandemic. “The crew is coping well with the COVID-19 protocols. Keeping safe distance when we can, always wearing face masks and lots of handwashing. We all know that it is in our best interest to shoot safely,” he says.
If you follow our NZCS Instagram account, you will be familiar with our recent host, cinematographer Joel Froome ACS.
Joel is an accredited member of the Australian Cinematographers Society and has been working as a professional cinematographer since the start of 2010.
Joel's Dad is from NZ and he still has lots of family over here, so NZ is a very big part of his life and he really wants to be more involved with the industry here and therefore joined the NZCS.
You can check out his website, with a showreel and full length work here
You can also check out his IMDb here
Niki Winer. Photo credit: Te Waiarangi Ratana
Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program:
These placements are an important part of our strategic plan to increase the numbers of women within the world of cinematography. They would not be possible without funding from NZ Film Commission, and the hard work and backing from the productions who agree to take on the placements. Productions not only meet the NZCS halfway in funding, but there is also a large amount of behind-the-scenes work to ensure these placements run smoothly. In this particular instance we would like to thank Line Producer Michelle Turner and Producer Paul Yates for making this opportunity possible.
Report from Niki Winer:
“We have recently wrapped production on Wellington Paranormal - Season 3, shooting in July 2020. I was not only the A camera 1st AC, but the lucky recipient of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity Program though the NZCS and the NZ Film Commission. This meant that apart from working in my usual capacity I was allowed a certain amount of days in pre-production, production, and in post (which will happen in the next few months) where I was able to shadow cinematographer Bevan Crothers.
The short time in pre-production was insanely busy. The days were spent going on location recces where I was able to watch as Bevan and directors Tim Van Dammen and Jemaine Clement talked through the scenes for the very first time in that environment. Then back to our HQ at Avalon Studios for several meetings with the art department, costume and makeup to discuss challenges such as: practical lights built into costumes, special UV makeup, glow-in-the-dark ghost vomit and a thousand other oddities. Getting to spend this time seeing the lighting plans being developed with gaffer Nick Riini and Bevan’s extremely detailed shot breakdowns was a great way to get my head around the world that’s being built.
My Gender Diversity placement gave me access to situations I would not normally be part of, such as the scene blocking, the director’s tent, the lighting builds and shooting plates with VFX supervisor Stan Alley. With this extraordinary access, I was able to absorb so much information and have a much greater understanding of all of the things a cinematographer works on day-to-day.
Directors Tim and Jemaine were incredibly encouraging, not only taking the time to talk through set-ups and explaining their process, but speaking to me in a way that was expected to be understood by a cinematographer. This program allowed me into all of the conversations I’m not usually privy to and the opportunity to have my many, many questions answered with patience, understanding, and a lot of good humour by all of the HOD’s on this show.
One of the things I enjoyed most was watching all of the set-up plans and diagrams come to life. Due to the mocumentary style of the show and incredible improv from the actors, things often didn’t turn out as planned, or where planned. Knowing this, Bevan and Nick had to be flexible and light entire alleyways or houses, Cam op Matt Henley was always ready to dive out of shot, and key grip Paul Murphy was almost always sprinting after them. Coming into a location with an incredible amount of pre-planning, and still having to work on the fly was such an amazing way of learning.
It has been a fantastic opportunity to be able to be a part of this important program on a job that I am already so involved in. 1st AC Andreas Mahn was super adaptable and open to the days I stepped way and 2nd AC Cam Smith was always ready to jump in and take care of anything that needed doing. Wearing multiple hats became a bit challenging sometimes but the overwhelming support from the crew and my camera team was incredibly humbling. Even though I have spent almost every day on a film set over the last few years, having the freedom and the time to actually step back and observe has been invaluable. From already having the understanding on how we do things, I was able to focus on why we are doing them.
I would like to thank the NZCS and Film Commission for creating these opportunities, Producers Paul Yates and Michelle Turner for being so welcoming, the entire Paranormal Crew for the love and support, and Bevan Crothers for pushing me to be more.”
Cinematographer Bevan Crothers with Niki Winer. Photo credit: Stan Alley
Cinematographer Bevan Crother’s report:
“I recently finished filming Season 3 of Wellington Paranormal and It was a real pleasure to be accompanied by Niki Winer as part of the Cushla Lewis Gender Diversity program.
Niki was the perfect fit and really embraced the opportunity. She was incredibly pro-active and positive with our time, asking and discussing all the aspects of the show’s cinematography.
Niki already has a wealth of on-set experience so it was great for her to be part of the prep side of the cinematographer’s role, with production meetings, VFX meetings, Director/DP script breakdowns, prepping of lighting and camera plans.
What was great about the situation was that Niki knew the show very well, having already worked as 1st AC on Season 2. This allowed us to get into a lot more detail about how the show was being constructed.
The Paranormal crew really embraced the Gender Diversity program and Niki was able to be involved in the lighting rigs and have discussions with Gaffer Nick Riini as well as both Directors Jemaine Clement and Tim Van Dammen, who were more than happy to discuss anything whenever they had time.
Niki has the right mind-set to do great things as a cinematographer, and I look forward to working together in the future.”
DP Wars. Photo credit: Stan Alley
Line Producer Michelle Turner’s report:
"The gender diversity programme was fantastic for us as a production to support and encourage women to progress to becoming a DOP. Both Producer Paul Yates and I were very supportive of this programme and very happy to be part of it.
Niki Winer was a great choice - she was a fast and keen learner and she and Bevan were a really good team. He was also a great mentor. We selected shoot days that were very heavy and complicated on lighting and camera work for the best learning experience. Niki also found the prep/tech recce days invaluable as she was not normally part of this process in her 1st AC work.
I would be very happy to continue to support this programme on other productions."
Donny Duncan NZCS, hands-on with lighting - Photo credit: Raphael Bonatto
A short film collaboration with the Media Design School students in Auckland and director Peter McCully has picked up the Best Cinematography award for Donald Duncan NZCS against hundreds of global entries, at the prestigious One-Reeler short film competition in Los Angeles.
“Kino Ratten” (Cinema Rats) is a live-action with CGI animation short film, set in a pre-war German cinema. In a defiant act of sabotage, the rats of the cinema disrupt the screening of a Nazi propaganda film, replacing it with a shadow play cabaret performance – starring themselves.
After shooting wrapped in 2018, around 30 MDS students worked for many months on the visual effects components under the watchful tutelage of visual effects supervisor Ryan Mullany and CG supervisor Kris Slagter.
Donald Duncan’s notes on the cinematography:
I was inspired by Peter McCully’s visionary script and the challenge of pulling off this project with a very modest budget, a mostly student technical crew, and a handful of great local actors. The idea of a 1938 pre-war period piece was very attractive to me, and the chance to collaborate with Ashley Turner on production design and Hannah Woods on costume design sealed the deal.
German street scene 1938
Upon viewing the completed film, I was most impressed by the transformation in the VSFX world – especially the 3D realism of the animated rats. Scenes shot with actors and foreground elements against green-screens in cold, grey warehouses were magically transformed into lushly enhanced city street scenes in pre-war Germany.
Rigging exterior green-screen set-up - Photo credit: Raphael Bonatto
While debating the visual style for the film, we decided the technical approach would involve using a small mirrorless DSLR camera – a Panasonic GH5 in 4K mode – and shooting hand-held with the excellent in-built stabilisation or gimbal stabiliser where appropriate.
To capture the 1938 period look, we lit scenes hard and contrasty and used old-school White Promist filters on the camera, to bring the softness back into the image by halating the highlights and bleeding them into the dark areas. The colour grading was then used to crush and restore the blacks, which tend to get milked out by the filter package, and then desaturate the image to move it in the monochrome direction. The colour palette was chosen to contrast blue/green night exterior tones with straw/orange practical lamp sources.
Animated rats play 78rpm record
Our cinema projection booth was an actual location, in the Crystal Palace theatre, in Mt Eden, although we had costed out a plan of building a set to make it easier to work in. The space was tight and cramped with very limited opportunity to hide additional lighting, so most of it was lit by practical sources. The DSLR camera was certainly an advantage for the tight space and several shots were taken with the camera remoted through a phone app, as there was no way to get anywhere near it for viewing.
John Leigh as projectionist Hermann Winkler
It was satisfying to make this film work using a very modest camera kit and a couple of fast prime lenses, but relying on strong lighting, bold compositions and camera moves that enhanced the story telling. The best feedback on this approach has come from contemporaries who were most surprised to find that it wasn’t shot on a RED or Alexa with an expensive lens package.
Peter McCully also picked up Best Director for Kino Ratten in the One-Reeler competition. We’ve since collaborated on another project with the MDS students, titled “Killing the Parson Bird”, which is still deep in VFX world, but will be released in the not too distant future.
At a time when Gender diversity is more important than ever, we at the NZCS are proud to be able to tautoko our members successes as always. NZCS Committee member Tory Evans has some great news as she’s breaking new ground in her role as Camera Op at TVNZ.
Tory has recently been promoted to start a new role as ‘Camera Journalist' on the Sunday program at the beginning of August. Here’s the lowdown:
‘Sunday wanted a camera op who lives and breathes current affairs, and could bring a fresh approach to shooting a more modern, stylised product, whilst keeping news journalism at the fore. So I’m expected to bring my ‘news brain’ with me, as well as my technical and production experience’ Tory explains.
‘Traditionally TVNZ hasn’t had many female Camera Ops in News - when I started working for them three years ago, we had one female crew in News, who’d been there for 11 years. The atmosphere wasn’t exactly one of discouragement but there was definitely no movement in the camera section for the foreseeable future’.
Tory had spent over a decade at Mediaworks previously, where they had at least six female crew at any given time! ‘I’m pretty sure there have been at least three other female crews at TVNZ over the last two decades, the amazing Steph Mohi, and also Mel Burgess come to mind. Another was Briar McCormack who started out filming for Sunday, and moved into a Producing role. All exceptional, talented women in their own right.’
‘Now, as I write this, we have seven of us across the network, thanks in no small part to our wonderful GM of Operations Andrew Fernie, who has nurtured and encouraged all of us along the way. I have a job at TVNZ purely because of him - he embraces diversity, and isn’t afraid to take on newbies / female crew if he sees they have talent’.
‘I’m excited about the role, I’m the second female to work on Sunday since its first episode in 2002. Big shoes to fill no doubt, but ever since I got my first big job on Campbell Live a few years back, I knew Sunday was the next goal for me to achieve ... Long may it last!’
Congratulations Tory, great to hear you’re being recognised for your visual talents and passionate commitment to your craft. We look forward to seeing more of your beaut visual storytelling on the air waves as you journey ahead!
You can follow Tory on Instagram @torygraceevans
Photo credit: Chris Blundell
Director Paora Joseph’s new project Mahara Dreams of Opo shot in the Hokianga area this July. Joseph’s 2018 documentary Maui’s Hook tackled suicide and mental health issues in New Zealand and the new project addresses mental health in narrative form.
Written in collaboration with Lani-Rain Feltham, who also served as Producer, it is the story of a young girl named Mahara who continues to struggle with the death of her mother, and finds herself institutionalised after receiving visions through wairua from Opo, the famous lone dolphin.
The film features actor and mental health advocate Rob Mokaraka as Mahara’s father Hemi. Hemi also struggles with his own grief and how to best help his daughter.
Shot by NZCS member Tim Flower, Mahara filmed in and around Omapere and Opononi for two days this month. With support from Imagezone in Auckland, “Mahara” used an Alexa Mini with a set of Super 35 Caldwell Chamleon lenses to capture the beauty of Hokianga.
The short was shot as a proof of concept for a feature film that will hopefully go ahead next autumn.
~ Michael Paletta, NZCS Committee Member
Joe has had a camera in his hand since he learned to walk on the bumpy streets of South Auckland. He is now a filmmaker and Cinematographer based in the stunning Alpine town of Wanaka, New Zealand.
He is a creative thinking, whiskey-drinking, Swanndri wearing kinda guy who has an extensive background working on News & Broadcast, TV series production, and online content.
Joe’s love for all things film has seen him work as a DP and Cinematographer on a variety of productions around the world. He has a natural talent for inspired and innovative approaches to movement, light and composition. Founder of The Film Crew Ltd, visual content production co. with a focus on Commercials, FoodTV, Music Videos and Corporate video production.
Scheduled for cinematic release on August 6th, This Town will be the first Kiwi film to release in cinemas Post COVID lockdowns.
Written, directed by and starring David White (Meat), This Town features Robyn Malcolm (Outrageous Fortune), Rima Te Wiata (Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and Toi Whakaari graduate Alice May Connolly in lead roles.
This Town follows one man’s attempt to return to normality, and one woman’s utter determination to prevent it. Charged but acquitted for a terrible crime, Sean (David White) is now the most infamous person in the small community of Thiston. But his attempts to move on with life are made difficult by ex-cop turned petting zoo and adventure park owner Pam (Robyn Malcolm), who’s convinced that Sean is a guilty man walking free.
We asked DOP, Adam Luxton, a few questions:
Cinematographer, Adam Luxton
What was your vision for shooting the film?
I was quite keen for it to kind of look like Pingu. We were shooting wide, graphic frames at deep stop and everything started to feel a lot like miniatures somehow. It's a really unfashionable cinematography style, but it felt really fun and like we were doing our own thing. We would just set up a big wide frame and then dress and dress and dress the shot. We wanted to see everything; all the little art department jokes a styling and everything. The whole film's initial idea was to play out in those wides, which I thought would have been really odd and original. As we went on, the film needed modulating for rhythm and story sense, so we started shooting more coverage, and it started to feel a bit more conventional. But we had a whole bunch of weird rules. Everything had to be straight on, squared up to the set or the horizon, or to any referencing structure in the location. Often that would mean we would end up shooting our scene completely front-lit, but that was just what we did to obey the rules we had. Then we would only cut down the line or to a camera position at 90 degrees to the master. So it was always odd. It came from a really particular kind of documentary style that David had been evolving for a number of years. It took some getting my head around! I'm not sure if anyone will ever shoot a movie like that again.
Were there any specific challenges, and how did you overcome them?
Lots of challenges. The film had a tiny budget, lots and lots of locations and a huge cast. And about two weeks out from shooting David decided we'd make it a two camera shoot. So we were maxed out across the board really and there was a lot of compromise in various areas to get the whole thing to work. But it did work! Which felt against the odds a lot of the time. I think David and the producers of the film can feel pretty stoked about that.
Who comprised your team?
In the camera team was Damian Seagar, who was the gaffer, B-cam operator and 2nd Unit DoP, then Fenton Dyer and Laura Tait were the AC's. Bill Bycroft came down for a shooting block too. They all worked really hard. And that are all pretty great humans too, which is really important to me.
How did shooting on location in Hawke's Bay add to the unique style of the film?
Well, it meant that we were able to make it at all. Auckland is such an inhospitable place to film in at the moment. Getting permission to be anywhere or do anything is costly and takes time, so on a tight budget things quickly get sticky. Shooting in Central Hawkes Bay was the opposite of that. People couldn't help enough. Everyone wanted to help. If we wanted to close a road for a shot we'd just call up the council and they'd tell us to stick out a road cone. So we bought a few road cones and did our own traffic control. I'm probably not allowed to say that. But that's what it was like down there, it was like shooting a film in the 80's or something. It was relaxed, people were cool and interested. We got a lot of mileage out of our budget there. The weather wasn't too flash though...
Can you tell us about your favourite shot or sequence of shots from the movie?
Don't know, I haven't seen it yet. But if David's shot with the enormous chainsaw made the cut, then that's my favourite shot.
You can watch the trailer HERE.
A Technodolly workshop hosted at GripHQ has seen the "Share the Knowledge" programme successfully branch into the practical side of production. Held over five days spread across June, ten successful applicants learned the inner workings of the Technodolly from world-renowned expert Lee Buckley and New Zealand's own veteran grip Tony 'Spotty' Keddy.
In New Zealand for an upcoming Amazon project, Buckley has been involved with the Technodolly for roughly the past ten years and has seen many iterations over his career, watching the technology advance from a ceiling-mounted newsroom crane to what it is now. His work on films such as War for the Planet of the Apes and Altered Carbon push the boundaries of the rapidly advancing technology. "Camera control, repeatability, the Technodolly can take prebuilt moves and recreate them practically on set or a practical live performance-led camera move that is then ingested into Maya. Now there's greater integration with things like Unreal and real-time CG environments that actors can exist in."
There are currently about 30 Technodolly around the world, with three in New Zealand and developments to acquire a fourth. Keddy believes this to be a huge drawcard for productions looking at New Zealand as a filming destination. Drawing on his extensive experience with motion capture, Keddy suggests the modern audience has grown a lot smarter so it takes a lot more to sell the illusion of film making, the Technodolly being an ideal piece in the modern film making puzzle. "It's a more flexible and reliable tool than it's ever been, and for a digital world, it's the right time for it."
With each Technodolly needing a crew to operate, the number of knowledgeable operators is thin. While there's been a demand for quality training for a long time, given COVID 19 and many productions looking to relocate to New Zealand, that need has escalated dramatically. "The machine's just a machine, and it will attract productions, but we need to have skilled people running it." says Keddy. He believes there needs to be a culture change in the film industry. "The only way we can go forward is if we share the knowledge and get the whole level of filming up. There's a huge gap between the A crews and the D Crews, if you're not shown what to do, it's a long journey to work your way up. Whereas we can elevate people quicker and better with education."
"When starting in the industry, to get that job you need the experience, and then to get that experience you need that job." Says Buckley. "Whilst the training doesn't give you the experience of set and what you would do on set it does give you that experience and ability to see how it works in the real world."
Local cinematographer Christo Montes attended the course and gained an appreciation beyond the hands on experience. "[Seeing] Lee's insight of what an actual set with the Technodolly means. Especially the set dynamics and how those can be challenging in a lot of situations, for me it was definitely a benefit to know." The training featured elements of real-world situations requiring critical thinking and a steady composure. Buckley says "By applying pressure to give a sense of 'Yes you have the knowledge, but how do you now make that knowledge fit within a set environment.' And that's the key to training is to get people so they've got the base awareness and base knowledge, and then that gives them the tools to be able to implement them on set."
When comparing New Zealand to a heavily unionized North America, Buckley says the multi-discipline nature of motion control crosses so many departments, and it's an attitude of collaboration that allows Kiwis to excel. "New Zealand has that willingness to jump into different worlds and just muck in and help out. It's both challenging and rewarding." With the government earmarking significant funds for international productions, there's never been a more pertinent time to foster the development of skills within the New Zealand film industry.
~ John Ross, Cinematographer
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