I find it interesting when people concentrate on the negatives rather than the positives. Particularly when it comes to technology.
The hilarious animation above was sent to me five times yesterday. Although all the arguments the little bear ‘cinematographer’ give seem valid. I think the little bear ‘producer’ is making the most sense.
If you would like to argue, perhaps you should first watch the clip below. Directed by fellow Exiteer Garth Davis and shot by Greig Fraser, who tells me “there were no lights used at all” during the shoot. It was also made with a small crew, the only way of making (in this circumstance), the seemingly impossible, possible.
Ride was the ‘main event’ film that my film Playground (see post below) and my friend Jono’s film Peepshow was made in support of.
Greig used Panovision ‘film’ lenses on the 5D (using a PL mount). Which makes the 5D even more viable aesthetically. I have seen Ride at full rez and it’s even more beautiful. It would be just as stunning blown up and projected onto a cinema screen as well I’m sure. Screw you little cinematographer bear!
I promise this will be my last gushy 5D post for a while…
I’m very proud of this short documentary I made earlier this year. This film is one of three Exit Films and Publicis Mojo produced for an energy drink called ‘Burn’, and it will be streamed on websites throughout Europe. Playground is a portrait of 21 year old rapper, poet and ‘beater’ named Julius Wright a.k.a Lyrical God who lives in Philadelphia. Enjoy…
The brief for Playground was simple. Perhaps a little to simple, make a film about ‘…an unconventional urban musician, somewhere in the world…” kind of narrows it down a little huh? After a couple of frantic weeks research here in Melbourne, London and New York we eventually stumbled upon this clip on YouTube of a guy called Lyrical God.
I couldn’t put my finger on it but there was something that just grabbed me about Julius. I had a feeling in my gut there was something more going on than just ‘tapping pens’ on a table. I found Julius on Facebook, took a punt and sent him a message. I can only imagine what he must of thought when he recieved it. “Hi I’m from Australia and I’d like to make a film about you… next weekend!”. So within a day or two I was chatting to Julius on the phone and he seemed like a really cool guy with a great approach to his music and his life in general.
We got go ahead from Mojo (the agency we were working with in Sydney) on a Wednesday, my assistant Ryley and I were on a flight to Philadelphia on Thursday and we were shooting with Julius on Friday.
I had been waiting for an opportunity like this for nearly ten years. The idea of taking the bare essentials and being jettisoned into the unknown to make a film for me the ultimate way to create, where you rely not on a script, but more on instinct and intuition. Responding to what you see and hear, hour by hour, day by day. That’s pretty much how I shot Playground over the five days we were in Philly.
Ryely and I found ourselves in an all black neighbourhood in South Philly, totally out of place for a couple of pastey Australians, but we were welcomed by Julius and his friends immediately and were made to feel most welcome. I was totally drawn in by the city and the people we met and I hope that comes through in the film a little.
Above: The last image I took of Julius just after we finished recording in the studio at 3am.
I guess the coolest thing about the experience was meeting and getting to know Julius and really liking him. The risk for me with a project like this was turning up in Philadelphia and Julius being keen on having a film made about him, but showing no interest in actually getting it made. I mean, all I had seen was some YouTube clips and a phone call. He could have easily lost interest in the idea of making a film when it became apparent that he was going to have get up early, do different things, hang out with us etc. I’ve seen the novelty of filmmaking wear off on people before, once the novelty wears off, it’s just hard work. However, I think Julius really got into it, he loves performing more than anything else, but over all I think he loved sharing the experience in making a film with us. He really wanted to make it work. And was very generous with his time.
One thing became very apparent while we were there though. It’s really hard for a black kid like Julius to make the leap from living with his Grandma in a row house in South Philly to being a successful musician. Everyone around Julius knows he has talent, and this is in an environment where everyone can rap and freestyle (all the guys you see rapping with Julius in the film live on his block) in fact everybody you see in the film is incredibly talented. Everyone expects Julius to ‘make it’. But by the end of our short week with him, I was all to aware of the great divide between who and where he was and what he dreamed he could be and how freaking hard it is going to be for him to make that leap. Simply by the fact that he is a young, black and poor. He has to busk to eat. And while everyone around him is saying how amazing he is and how he is going to be rich and famous one day, most days there is nothing in the fridge to eat, and he’s out hustling for change. The pressure to make it and fulfill his and his friends and families dreams must be huge.
I wish Julius all the best. I know he has a really great support network and his managers Aaron and Nathan, who look out for him in so many ways other than just financially are two of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. I hope this film is one stepping stone closer for him to his dream.
(On the geeky side, this short project was my first real attempt at shooting on the 5DmkII which I have beendiscussing here for a while now. Again, I was so impressed with the quality and the usability of the camera in the real world. I used no focus rig or extra bits and pieces. Pretty much the camera and a monopod was all I used. We had a sound recordist with us most days which made a huge difference, but some of what made the cut is the 5D with a microphone mounted on top. Simple, discreet and beautiful ‘film like’ quality.)
Wrapped shooting yesterday on my block of episodes of Offspring. Feeling pretty trashed. This is the first day I have had off in weeks, and I must say that time today has seemed to pass very slowly. One of the strange things I have always noticed on set is how time seems to expand and compress in the most surreal way. You can look at your watch and there will be two hours to get a scene shot and I’ll think this will be no problem. And then in what seems like five minutes you are rushing to secure and maximise every second of value as you race against the clock to get it done. Hours can literally pass in what feels like seconds.
(above: my final clapper board of the shoot. 354 shots x 2 cameras, thats over 700 set ups. Thats a whole lot of material to wade through in the next 2 weeks of edit… yikes!)
Speaking of which this week I really felt the pressure of the schedule. We are shooting about eight minutes a day of screen time, which is pretty fast. Even with two cameras there is just enough time for basic coverage and a couple of takes on each of those set ups. If you go over the time you are stealing time from your next set-up and the next. But somehow everyone digs in and gets through it.
More than a few times this week I was met with a seemingly impossible task of shooting quite lengthy scenes featuring big emotional and staging beats for the characters with time enough for only two set-ups and only a take or two for each of those set-ups. It was quite frightening to be watching the clock, knowing you are already into overtime and knowing that you are going to have to stop shooting regardless of whether you have everything shot or not.
But I am so freaking blessed to have been working with such an amazing cast and crew that some how they pull it off in those one or two takes. In a pretty physical and emotional fight scene between Sacha Horler and Kat Stewart, I had to say quietly before hand “I’m sorry guys but we only have time to do this once…”, Sacha looked at me with a sly smile and replied ever so calmly “Don’t worry mate, we’ll look after you.” And they did. I feel like they totally nailed it. I watched these guys just take a leap of faith and go for it. It re-assured me of what great actors can do, even under extreme time pressure. And it reminded me of the trust and the faith that exists between actors, directors and the crew as a whole. And when all the pieces click together, like it did on more than one occasion throughout the week it can be the most amazing feeling. I get those hot flushes of feeling so lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
One of the reasons I came on board with Offspring was the opportunity to direct something that is tonally quite different to what I’m naturally drawn to as a filmmaker. I will always be in love with ‘drama’ and in particular the harder drama of films like Last Ride, but I know all to well, that kind of film and filmmaking is not for everyone. So even though I know I’m not destined for fluffy comedies (not that there is anything wrong with that) I’m also very interested in creating drama that is ‘entertaining’, in a more commercial sense.
So I’ve been very focused on finding the tonal balance of Offspring which essentially walks the line between drama and comedy. One word that is used to help describe the tone is ‘buoyant’, meaning it bobs it’s way between the two. It goes down into drama but quickly bobs up into comedy and then back down again. It’s been a real challenge for me as a director and I know for some of the actors as well.
Early starts on set and late nights prepping for the next day shooting. It’s all consuming, but I love that aspect of filmmaking. Constantly trying to make every minute count.
Here are some random snaps from the week. ‘Waiting for my ride’, ‘Union Club Hotel’, ‘Union Club Hotel Toilet’, ‘Magic hour on the way to set’.
Amongst many amazing cast memebers, I had the pleasure this week of working with Lachy Hulme. I had watched and loved The Hollowmen, so I was really keen to meet him and see how he worked. I’m happy to say I don’t think I have ever quite met anyone like Lachy before. He brought such great energy to the set. Part class clown, part consummate professional, part force of nature. He is one of those film guys who seems to have an interest in everything and everyone to do with film. Between takes I overheard him talking to someone about an article he had just read in American Cinematographer, he chatted to the sound guys about the qualities of different rechargeable batteries, he loved my Leica, he could quote lines from any movie, and had enough stories to keep everyone amused for hours. All this and being completely focused on the job at hand. I look forward to the day our paths cross again Lachy!
Lachy peering out from behind the surgical mask. I told him I couldn’t see him doing ‘his acting’ from behind the mask. He then reminded me of Hugo Weaving’s great performance in V for Vendetta of which I think Lachy is channeling some of in the photo above.
I’m one third into my block of new TV Drama Offspring. I have found the shooting schedule to be pretty comfortable. Of course everyone would always like more time, but it’s not like I have been super rushed even though I do like to shoot quickly. We are shooting with two Red Cameras, which allows you to get through the coverage at a reasonable pace. I’m not the hugest fan of Red as a format, but I’m impressed by the image, and I’ve really enjoyed working with and getting know DOP John Brawly, who even after 9 weeks or so of shooting other eps, is still very much focused and enthusiastic.
The cast as I expected are amazing. On more than one occasion I was happy to move on after one take, because I could see no real reason to do another. They just nailed it. I’m an even bigger fan of Asher Keddie and Kat Stewart after this week. There is alot of laughter and even though there is a ton of set ups to get through each day, the set is reasonably calm and relaxed. Just the way I like it. Here’s hoping it it keeps going that way for the next couple of weeks. I know I have some ‘bigger days’ coming up…
All the car interiors are being shot on the Canon 5D. It has a different look to the RED, but I think with some tweaking in the grade it should cut it nicely. It definitely speeds up the process being able to throw a couple of 5D’s into the car and the cast (Asher above) to just go for a drive for real. No more low-loaders or traffic lock downs because you have cameras hanging on cars. It’s cut the shooting time down immensely.
Speaking of the continual search for locations to shoot… I was fascinated to came across a photographer today who explores altogether different worlds for his images. Robert Overweg ‘photographs’ in the virtual worlds of games like Half Life and Modern Warfare. I love the beautifully eerie and haunting tone of this series where he explores the outer limits of the games designed world. Where the virtual world just ‘ends’.
This past week I’ve been heading out most days to scout extra locations for my episodes of Offspring. I can’t really publish any of the location shots at this point, but I do love all the other images that get gathered along the way.
As I have mentioned before I really love the process of searching for places to shoot, for me it will always be one of the most enjoyable stages of any production. Whether it be exploring the world, or in this case my own neighbourhood, I find there is always interesting detail and beauty in the most unexpected places.