Some excellent and concise guidance from the picture-makers at Sony:
I was recently invited to come and play at the recently opened Sony Digital Motion Picture Centre, located on the grounds of Pinewood Studios in the UK. Pinewood, itself, has tremendous history attached to it. A street named Goldfinger Avenue is enough of a giveaway to the legacy of James Bond movies made here. The largest sounds stage in Europe is at Pinewood, and a huge water tank with massive blue-screen, has been instrumental in the making of water-based movies such as Life of Pi.
Sony opened a studio facility at Pinewood with on-site workflow, colour grading, editing, and viewing facilities, allowing DPs to test Sony’s latest equipment (F65, F55, F5) under a variety of challenging lighting conditions. These cameras are amazing pieces of engineering, producing 4K and 8K quality output and giving editors tremendous creative scope. The screening room features a massive Sony 4K projector together with guidance on optimum viewing distances. To have a 25 foot screen truly “pop” with colour and detail certainly ignites new creative inspiration.
With full-time staff at the Sony Digital Motion Picture Centre, a small group of us (three) were shown the essential operational aspects of the F65 and F55 and were then pretty much let loose. Plentiful refills of excellent coffee kept the energy going and 8 hours of shooting, workflow, grading and editing just flew by.
A quick tour of the Pinewood lot after a brief lunch revealed some of the extensive film-making history here. Carry-On movies, the aforementioned James Bond franchise, Harry Potter, Mission Impossible, Eyes Wide Shut, Alien, The Bourne Ultimatum, and Lara Croft are just a few of the many movies that have used Pinewood Studios in production.
You too can secure an invitation to go and visit the Sony DMPC at Pinewood. Here is the link to the registration page, but be warned, you will come away trying to budget for a pair of F55s at the very least…
I have a 400+ shot list for this two week Toxic State shoot. Every little detail is worked out. Which cameras for each shot; which angles, what counter-points; how many seconds for each shot, and, therefore how much storage (computer disk space) is required. Scripts for every stand-up and voice-over; Questions for every interview. Even the shot list created in order of geographic location and the order of my itinerary.
So today I scheduled myself a day off. A day to do as I please. I chose to take my camera gear and go and hang out in two of my favorite places; Canyonlands National Park, and Arches National Park. Canyonlands has the wildest elements about it – no services, no gift shops, nothing. And go drive the Shafer Trail for a feeling of what it must have been like to be a uranium miner, carving out a more convenient route from the top of the Canyonland cliffs, to the Colorado Plateau, a ball-tingling, dizzying number of thousands of feet from top to bottom. Narrow, mostly unmaintained roads, risks of flash floods, no barriers next to lethal drops – I love this stuff.
And today, unmeasured and unmanaged, I created the best footage of the shoot so far.
Maybe I should take off next week as well!
Just a few days before I hit the road, once again, for a 6000 trip visiting Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada. This will be the second shoot in the south-west region and hopefully the final one for this project.
Additional trips are being considered – Hanford, in Washington State; Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, where there are nuclear facilities and victims of radioactive fallout; Kansas, where there were fallout hotspots actually more dangerous than those in Nye County, Nevada, right next to the test site; and possibly upstate New York where Geiger counters went off the scale a few days after certain atmospheric weapons tests in Nevada.
The shot list is up to 368 and I can easily see 400 being quite reasonable when this shoot is done. The planning is very detailed. Consider 30 seconds per clip for many shots, and multiply that by the memory required to shoot 30 seconds of 1080p 30fps on ProRes422 and you start to be able to figure out what portable mass storage requirements will be needed. I just added a Glyph 4Tb RAID 1 portable hard drive to the equipment stack. That, together with other high performance RAID drives already packed up in their Pelican cases, should, I hope, be sufficient to capture everything required.
Spent quite a bit of time today, wiring and testing a new camera rig with Sound Devices mixer and Roland recorder bolted to the side. Getting the tone setting just right on both channels took a little while, and will have to be repeated with every shot – but I am a lot closer than I was a week ago.
Still continuing to finalize scripts for many of the shots – re-writing many of them to lighten them up. This really needs to be enlightening but also entertaining. I am leaning towards irony and satire but it might not all work out that way.
Looking forward to sending my new DJI Phantom with GoPro Hero3 on 4K over the side of a canyon at sunrise. Should be pretty dramatic, and the light should be amazing.
The detailed planning, extreme focus, and late nights/early mornings, together with the obsessiveness to create a complete and compelling story, has its impacts. People get ignored or marginalized. For that, I am truly sorry. But the creative process is all consuming, and the end result will be something worth fighting for. I hope you stay with me.
I have a two and a half week shoot coming up and I am deep in to the detail with shot lists and scripts. I have around 383 shots listed and detailed so far.
Clearly, if these were all shots of one type, one camera, one angle, the final product would lack a certain dynamism. The viewer would get bored without really knowing why. And with the proliferation of documentary productions available today (and rapidly growing in number), production value, and even entertainment value (which rubs some documentarians the wrong way) is crucial for a successful project.
Martin Parr, a very well known British photojournalist even went as far as saying a few years ago, that to be a successful photojournalist, you must know how to entertain your audience. For some, that might seem almost a perversion of the discipline of documenting life. But I agree with Martin. Why? The bigger question is why would anyone want to document social issues, cultures, lifestyles, conflicts etc.? What are they trying to achieve by doing this?
Ultimately, the goal is to deliver one or more messages to an intended audience. You can do this using a carrot or a stick. The stick is the harsher, YOU MUST LEARN THIS approach which comes with dry, often very boring content that we have probably all come across in schools and colleges. The carrot approach is the more compelling “here is something you will find interesting, and we have made it easy for you to engage with the topic and understand the issues” approach. Carrot = entertainment, one of the most effective ways of teaching and learning.
So how can I make 383 shots (and counting) entertaining? Well, many of those shots are of the same subject from a different angle. Yes, I know that’s been done. So I have been getting really creative and even manufacturing some devices to help me get the shots I am looking for. One of my inventions is an open-sided box inside a box with a light and flexible foam layer between the two boxes. Inside the inner box is a matrix of rubber bands upon which is mounted the back of a GoPro casing. The purpose for this is the ability to embed a GoPro camera in a number of planned, high vibration locations (railroad ties for example) and grab high quality shots from unusual angles (the uranium train rolling right over the camera, for example).
Another investment has been a drone. The DJI Phantom is a very cost effective and far more flexible option to a crane for high view shots. By attaching a GoPro Hero 3 with 2K or 4K turned on, to the DJI Phantom, and by using the wifi capability to see what the camera is seeing via my iPhone, I can get some very nice crane-like shots of all sorts of subjects, adding to the entertainment value of those 383 shots.
I will post images of all these things in action, and their results, as the shoot rolls out.
My Dad was somewhat of a perfectionist and he “encouraged” me to be the same. I realized, however, that not everyone shares the same definition of perfection and so, thankfully, I loosened up (a little) as I grew up. But I am still very detail oriented, for those things that I have a passion for. The Toxic State production is the latest focus of this.
When I was growing up, my Mother worked for the BBC in London. I would go over to the Wood Lane Television Center everyday after school to meet her. With that came access to all sorts of television production people and facilities. I was the interested little boy that directors, actors, producers, would take under their wing while my Mother was finishing up her work day.
One of the many topics that fascinated me was continuity. We have all seen those little continuity issues in movies when, for example, we see an actor holding a wine glass that is mostly empty, and in the next cut, the wine glass is nearly full.
What I learned at the BBC, amongst other things, is that audiences get quickly and easily confused if people on camera are wearing different clothing outfits with no clear transition between one outfit and another. I also watched some footage that I shot in September, last year, also in Utah. Wanting a relaxed look, I wore t-shirt and jeans. Unfortunately, when viewing this on screen, I looked unkempt – need to be smarter. And so, prior to my recent visit to Ohio and Pennsylvania to visit radioactive waste sites, I researched smarter shirts to wear. Ideally, the shirts needed to be a neutral, solid color for the camera to be able to handle it easily. Given the travel involved, the shirts needed to be easy to pack and easy to iron, so that I always looked smart when on camera.
My first selection was an Eddie Bauer shirt, all cotton, which looked smart and nicely pressed on the Eddie Bauer site but when I received them, the day before leaving for Ohio, I found them to be easily creased and impossible to iron well without copious amounts of starch. Terrible shirts for travel. But given that the weather in OH and PA was pretty darn cold (snowing, freezing weather), the long sleeves of the shirts were welcome, and I almost always wore a fleece jacket or GoreTex waterproof over them.
Thinking ahead to the April/May shoot in Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado, the weather will be much warmer (thankfully) and the locations largely desert. So I have gone back to an old favorite, the 5.11 Tactical wear polo shirt. Tough, each to wash, easy to iron, solid tan color – I have five of the same shirt to ensure continuity.
Another important consideration is editing. The order of the shots I capture is not finalized as far as the final production sequence goes. Wearing the same outfit for every shot makes it much easier to move the order of shots around without seeing me wear outfits out of order, or apparently changing between consecutive shots.
This is one of many little continuity considerations that must be recognized and managed in order to raise the quality of production.
Maybe it’s because I was born at the tail-end of the Cold War; the Cuban Missile Crisis was still fairly recent news, and the USA vs USSR nuclear arms race was a regular topic of conversation. I recall watching the equivalent of Civil Defense programs on our black and white TV in London. My Dad had spare doors and bags of sand in the cellar of our London house, in case the sirens sounded.
Fast forward to the 1990′s and I discovered the deserts of Utah and Arizona. I had always been a mountain sort of person – cold, wet, snow, ice, that was my thing. And then I experienced deserts, and I was hooked. During a number of trips to Utah, I photographed all aspects of the better known deserts and remote locations — Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef National Park, Arches National Park, the amazing Canyonlands… And then a Moab-based photographer took me on a tour of the unmapped desert behind Arches National Park and I discovered my first abandoned uranium mine.
With many return trips to Utah between then and now, I came to learn a great deal about toxic waste, mining of hazardous materials, processing of radioactive ore, long-term dumping, and even the impact on Utah residents of nuclear weapon testing in neighboring Nevada. And so, later in 2012, I decided to create a documentary production about Utah as a Toxic State.
The first shoot occurred in September 2012 and was a blend of revisiting many of the sites I already knew about, and exploring new locations, meeting some very interesting people, and piecing together an intelligent story line. A second trip is planned for March 2013 and, prior to that, I will be visiting Ohio and Pennsylvania where there are some pretty nasty radioactive waste sites, shipping millions of tons of hazardous waste to Utah.
In fact, the more I researched, the more I realized that all of the United States has been impacted by the country’s obsession with nuclear weapons since 1945. The population that has been most harmed by nuclear weapons is no longer Japan; it is the United States. Radiation poisoning, all sorts of cancer, genetic disorders, deformed babies and animals, and continued denial by the U.S. Government that they had anything to do with these very real medical challenges. Only recently has there been somewhat more accountability accepted by the Department of Energy (previously known as the Atomic Energy Commission).
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