Director of Photography

Well they say that it’s third time lucky and I have just heard that ‘Playing Burton’, a film I shot, has been nominated for a Welsh BAFTA. I say third time lucky as it is actually the third film that I have worked on that has been nominated for a BAFTA. The first was actually a pilot episode that I made with Upsidedown Films which I co-own. It was a very long time ago and stared Jason Hughes. It was directed by film-maker Wyndham Price and actually shot by my business partner and long-time friend Zoran Veljkovic SAS. The SAS is the Serbian Association of Cinematographers rather than the other type of shooting that goes on with the army version! The pilot was the first episode of what would have been six if it had been commissioned. As Zoran had already worked with Wyndham I took on the duties of the producer which was an interesting experience and, if I’m honest, not one I will repeat! However I am a great believer in having a good understanding of other departments and this certainly helped me appreciate some of the struggles that production constantly deal with. The second nomination came for a comedy drama that was directed by the very talented and lovely Misha Manson-Smith. This time I did shoot it and once again it was a rather long time ago. We shot it on a PDW800 with a pro35 and some Zeiss glass. It was called Delta Forever and still today I am very fond of it. This time it was a Scottish BAFTA that the nomination was for.

So now to 2014 and the third nomination, again for a Welsh BAFTA (results not in as this is written). As with the first nomination, this was directed by Wyndham Price and this time is a feature film biopic. Zoran was not available for this shoot so I filled his very large boots and took the reins to DoP the film. It is very closely modelled on the stage play of the same name which is a monologue given by an actor playing Richard Burton. We were very fortunate to have Josh Richards play the role for us and he gave a mesmerising  rendition of the character. Wyndham pulled everything together beautifully and really made a rather lovely film of which I am very proud of my part. Fingers crossed that this time we win. There are excerpts on the drama tab of this site if you want to see any more of either Playing Burton or Delta forever.

Well it has hasn’t it? But I suppose all good things need to end and now the shooting schedule is properly building up. I haven’t posted for a while which is mainly as I’ve enjoyed a relaxing holiday and returned to find most of my clients doing the same! With the absence of any work for my RED I decided to take a documentary for NHK, the Japanese broadcaster. I like to do at least one documentary a year as they remind me of skills which can be forgotten when you have big teams of people with you. It’s not just that though, it’s also a bit self-indulgent as I really love shooting them – what’s not to like? Firstly you, almost always, learn something or see a different reality to the world that you think exists and secondly you have to make instant decisions about how the story should be photographed. You enter a space and often have only a matter of seconds to work out the best camera position to tell the story in the most interesting way. It’s a rollercoaster of risk versus coverage – do you shoot using the best of the light even if it risks not getting all the coverage, or do you settle with a flatter light or background but cover all the action. Well this documentary was very sedate.  It was a behind the scenes look at the British Museum and their enormous Japanese collection which I have to say was fascinating. A far cry from my last documentary which was directed by acclaimed director, Penny Woolcock, and looked at the fragile peace process being brokered by two of the most notorious gangs in Birmingham (UK).  This was an amazing film and won the Michael Powell award for feature documentary although I can honestly say that my part was a small one and Penny ended up shooting 50% of the film herself as the gang members became increasingly suspicious of any additional people throughout the difficult process.

So, what’s coming up now? Firstly a quick look back at the last few projects. Dr Who has started again and I was brought in to record all the greenscreen promo material for worldwide sales, as you can see from the photo I took the opportunity to have a spin in the Tardis!

The Travel Channel asked me to shoot a promo for them to show off their new series with Henry Cole on his world wide bike adventures. We had an absolute ball as Henry took advice from a select group of over the top individuals in a fast cut comedy trail. I can show you some stills but the trail is still under wraps, although I promise to put it up as soon as I can.

Finally, UEFA, needed a commercial to showcase their new multi-platform streaming system which was a complex greenscreen shoot. Again, no finished product that I am allowed to show, but a few frame grabs. The premise was that a fan is sitting in his living room and, through the device, is transported into the middle of a stadium. This was all virtual with the guys at FGreat doing a tremendous job of the post, creating a photo-real  environment for our actor to be in.

Coming up there is an advert for cinema release to promote an exhibition on Sherlock Holmes, another greenscreen extravaganza for contactless payment, and hopefully another set of idents for BBC Worldwide.  The big excitement though is that it looks like we start principle photography on Chris Crow’s next feature, The Lighthouse, in November of this year.  Much, much more on this as we start getting into pre production. It’s getting busy so I look forward to more news soon.

I’ve never really specialised in any area or genre of film making. It’s always been that if a project comes my way and I find it interesting then I’ll do it, however it is funny how things tend to come in cycles. This year I have shot a lot more food based projects than normal. Recently I have had the two opposite ends of the scale, one spot for luxury chocolate maker ‘Artisan du Chocolat’ and then a test comercial for a healthy eating campaign to play out in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi campaign is a centrally funded project where they, of course, want to make the food look as fresh and delicious as possible but it also needed to be accessible. It’s about saying ‘you don’t need to be a fantastic chef to make healthy and delicious food’. Each spot will hang off a vignette showing everyday life which will inter-cut with the food being prepared. We decided to shoot the preparation of the food at 200fps so that each glint of water or fibre of meat looked as appealing as possible, the slicing of a tomato captured as it slowly topples sideways. I can’t put the final film up yet but they have agreed to let me show you some framegrabs.

This was shot on the RED Epic at 2k at 200fps. It was directed by Nic Cornwall and produced by LittleBigFish Films for the agency WRG. All being well the plan is to shoot a series of 4 commercials in September, the food will be shot in the UK and then we will travel to Abu Dhabi to shoot the 4 vignettes to support them.

That’s all and good, but lets face it, in the world of indulgence, lettuce does not pose much of a threat to chocolate! When asked to shoot for the luxury chocolatier ‘Artisan du Chocolat’ it was not a very difficult decision, I believe my exact words were, ‘doh, yer of course’. The director, Harry Reavey, wanted the spot to feel rich in tone with a hint of mystery. There was a narrative but the main thrust of the pictures was to create an ambience of seductive elegance. I felt that one of the best ways to achieve this was to obscure the actors with gentle flares and use reflections to break things up a little.

We shot using my Epic on a steadicam, courtesy of steadicam op James Elias. The Nikon Primes came out again as they flare so beautifully and have a certain soft indulgence which was perfect for this film. We were shooting in the Marylebone Hotel in London which was a lovely location but unfortunately we had to work around the residents of the hotel as production, Diser films, could not buy the location out  in full. This meant that we had to use a small crew and small fixtures. So as always in these situations lots of battery panel lights came out and I made a special beauty light for our leading lady. I wanted something small, warm, soft and directional and this worked out perfectly. There’s a picture of it above, granted not 100% sophistication but did the job well and we could walk with it and follow our leading lady. The only time that we really lost out to the residents was with some shots of our actress sitting in an alcove area. This had mirrors behind and a strong top light. Normally I would have silked the top light but it was deemed too intrusive to the residents so we blocked what we could and added more from the side. It was disappointing but I guess that’s life. Anyway, here is the finished one minute version;

You don’t get one for a while and then three come at once. Last year one of the trails I shot for the BBC, ‘Life and Death’, won a silver Promax which was nice as the Director, Andrea Pavarotti, really went out on a limb and made a more conceptual trail than is usual. You can see it on my commercials page if you fancy a gander. It was shot on an Alexa with Cooke S4 primes. We hung monitors in the space and fed them with video feeds from a vision mixer. The colour tubes were hung in huge mirror boxes which give them this endless feel. It was designed by Al Saunders and gaffered by Tim O Connell. The idea was to create a world that bears no real relationship to a formal space that our actor could walk through. We then shot this using multiple reflections in monitors, ipads and specially made broken mirrors.

So this year we have managed to improve by getting another silver Promax, but also winning a silver World Award for Camerawork (promotion/open & ids) in the New York Festivals. These are for two separate trails but by the same director, Gemma Baukham. Both were designed by Al Saunders. The first, Come Dine with me South Africa won the Promax in London 2014. It was a light-hearted piece showing the aftermath of the mother of all parties.

Again shot on Alexa and Cooke S4’s and again gaffered by Tim O Connell. We shot on location in South London and were looking for a hot feel as it was meant to be based in South Africa – sadly the BBC choose to not fly us all to SA! I really wanted to get hot spots with the light flaring in whenever possible and looking back now, should have gone further. Anyway, judge for yourself, here it is;

The New York Festivals award was nice as it was specific to the photography. This trail was again designed by Al saunders but gaffered by Robin Brigham this time. Same camera and lenses as before, it sounds like I always use S4’s but actually I tend to only use them for comedy or for when I’m looking for attractive gentle flares and by coincidence that was the look for all 3 of these.

We designed this trail to happen all in one shot, a long steadicam trawl through a party where awkward moments happen. Simon Wood was the very talented steadicam op who captured this for us. So the whole space was lit for the one long shot, we hid small lighting units wherever we could  and Al helped fill any areas that were going too dark with streams of fairy lights. The BBC wanted the feel to be bright, both to stay away from the seady side and also to fit into the comedy style. Sadly, although we managed to film it in one go and managed to get it to time the powers that be decided to put a couple of inserts in. I was surprised that we managed to get people to agree in the first place as it’s always more of a risk but both myself and Gemma championed it passionately. Here it is;

In an earlier post I talked about a trail I shot for the BBC which promoted a strand they were running about all the conflicting health advice out there. It’s now out and so I can put it up here for you to see.

We shot in on the RED camera with a set of K35’s on the front. In addition for some of the montage stuff we used a Go Pro Black. The RED was running at 25fps 5K for all the montage shots and 200fps at 2K for the 3 main slow motion sections. The K35’s have a lovely slightly softer look which blends well with the 2K slow motion stuff. Here it is, 

In an earlier post I promised to add the final spot for Accessorize when I managed to get a copy of it. Well, I have the rebranded spot for Monsoon which is essentially the same and here it is;

I know, there are about a million innuendos with a statement like this but being a grown mature adult obviously none of these would cross my mind! One of the phrases that I’m happy to bore people with is my dogma of ‘if it records an image and is the correct tool I’ll use it’. This has meant that I have thrown a minicam off a cliff for a pov suicide, recorded webcam style footage on my phone, hung Go Pros pretty much everywhere and shot some drama inserts for a doc/drama on S8. Recently I have shot a couple of films where we have chosen to use a 5D over an Epic or Alexa. So why would we be insane and make a choice like that? What are the parameters for choosing an acquisition tool? My first question is, what are the requirements of the highest quality destination? Is it for theatre release, or 4K screen, or HD or internet – Obviously theatre release or 4K screen rules out any lower quality formats automatically, I then look at any particular visual requirements, do we need a particularly shallow depth of field, or wide dof, are we shooting high contrast, high framerate, is there any effects work or greenscreen etc. Finally I think about the practicalities, what sort of space do we have to shoot in, how much time, how many crew, is there lots of travel, what data wrangling do we have and what is the final workflow?

So back to my two most recent 5D films. The first was a collaboration with Chris Crow who I first worked with on Viking – The Darkest Day. He is an amazing director and we are gradually starting the prep for ‘The Lighthouse’, a fully funded feature to be shot later this year which will be very dark. He wanted to shoot a pop promo for a band called Folk Grinder. The band wanted something moody. This tied in well with us as we also wanted to start thinking about what tools we might use to’ distress’ the picture on Lighthouse. We decided to play around with ‘lens wacking’ (shooting with the lens disconnected from the camera body so that you get flare from behind the lens and extremely select focus/distortion). I knew that the primary delivery format would be for the internet with possible broadcast at up to 1080 resolution. I knew that we would be working outside near lots of water and would have to work quickly but also have the sensor exposed to the elements. I also knew that we would be using a wide range of lenses that included old Canon FD lenses and a lensbaby as well as all the usual suspects, that we would be handheld and that I would need to be able to hold the camera and lens separately, meaning the camera body had to be lightweight. The 5D seemed the perfect choice. Here’s the film;

The second film was a brand film for high style fashion company Belstaff. This was directed by long time collaborator and great director, Nic Cornwall who I’ve had the good fortune and pleasure of working with for many years. On the face of it I would normally have shot this on an Alexa or Epic. The pictures needed to be stylish and hark back to a heritage of artisan tradition and quality. However, there were two complications; firstly we had to shoot the film twice, once in and aspect ratio of 9:16 for the in store screens and once at 16:9 for conventional play out on screens and web. Secondly we had to shoot in store whilst it was open to the public. Again highest quality play out was to be 1080 and we had to be as small a unit as possible as the store was worried we would clutter the place up! I was also aware that we would not have as much control of the background as I would like because we could not switch store lights on and off so we decided to use the shallowest depth of field that we could attain. At this point it was already looking like the 5D with it’s huge sensor might be the perfect choice. What sealed it was when we also considered that with a small crew and lightweight camera support we had to be able to rotate the camera 90 degrees, pretty much between every shot, so as to enable the 9:16 and 16:9 aspect ratios. The filming went smoothly and I’m pretty sure we could not have achieved it with the physically larger bodies of the RED or Alexa. I’ll let you be the judge, here is the 9:16 version.

Whilst my business partner, Zoran Veljkovic, was having fun shooting a feature in India I stepped in and filled his boots by covering for him on a six part chat show with Sir Michael Parkinson. This was right up my street as I’m a bit of a foodie and the programmes all featured top chefs; Heston Blumenthal, James Martin, Tom Kerridge, Mary Berry, Angela Hartnett and Jason Atherton. Technically, it was a bit of a challenge as it was shot on location, rather than in a studio and had two areas to shoot in which were seperated by a sheet of glass with windows running all down one side. Our schedule allowed 20 minutes to change over from one set to the other and we could not pre-rig as we could see the other set through the glass. The glass, of course, also acted as a mirror so any lights were almost instantly reflected unless they were set absolutely precisely. We shot on 3 C300s, 1 was on steadicam and the others were either tripod or handheld depending on which side of the glass we were on.

Lighting wise I kept it simple. Just shot HMI’s in from each side and filled and back lit with 1×1 light panels. This was quick to move around and easy-ish to hide from the reflections. Sir Michael and the production team at Parkinson Productions were a dream to work with and luckily everything went swimmingly well – I even picked up some top cooking tips.

It always comes at once doesn’t it? 3 days, 3 different comercials and promos, and now a nice few days to recover before Easter. First was the BBC trail for the worldwide sales of ‘Secret Millionaire’. It was a good shoot, but full on, with hardly a moment to stop and look back at what had gone on. It sort of dawned on me that at least 50% of my job is communication now. It’s always been important to communicate but there is an extra level that has grown since the drop off of film. On film you can always speak to the lab at the end of the day, or start of the next if you have any grading notes, but now as we transcode during the shoot day you always have to keep one eye on the look being applied to the transcodes. These are, after all what the director will see first and get used to during the edit. I also have to be sure of the whole workflow before we shoot, for instance on the last BBC shoot they were grading off the 2K transcodes rather than going to the original 5K rushes so any grade applied has to be very subtle. I’m not complaining, I love all the amazing tools we have to work with at the moment, but it is definitely creating a shift in how we manage the look of a shoot. There’s a couple of stills here from the camera rig. We spent most of the day looking straight down which was the creative style choosen by the director and I think will work really well. We shot on my RED Epic using a lovely smooth set of Nikon primes from the 1980’s. Hard work for my focus puller but a lovely look. I’ll put the trail up when allowed.

Next day we went on to a fashion spot for Accessorize. Again a lot to do, but a nice relaxed atmosphere with a small crew. The spot will feature one model in six different outfits against different coloured backgrounds. We used the same camera package as the BBC shoot and shot at Big Sky Studios, a stills studio which was lovely to work in. Nice space, very helpful assistants and amazing food! The challenge on this one was to keep the background shadow free, whilst allowing the model to move around and keep some form of modeling in the light on her. This was made more tricky by the fact that we were limited to a colourama as a backdrop so could only keep her at best 2 meters away from the back wall. Our strategy was to light the background with a low level of light as evenly as possible so that any light we put on the model would read without it having to have too much punch. I have to say this worked amazingly well, although we were definitely helped by having a very co-operative model with beautifully reflective skin. The still at the top is a framegrab from the rushes but that’s all I can show for the moment, when I can show more, I will. Lastly was the Sky shoot which was my first for Sky (hopefully there will be more?!). I can’t talk about it yet but will in my next post. It was shot on the Lomo anamorphic lenses with an Alexa XT which was fun.

Having recently adopted Twitter, I know about 100 years after the rest of the world, I have started thinking about how easy it is to share things. So, it seemed like it might be fun to keep track of what I’m doing but jotting it down for all to see. I’ve never been a diary person so who knows if this will work or not, or indeed if anyone will look, but worst case it might be cathartic for me. What do I want to say? I want to keep people up to date with what I’m doing so that my clients know if I’m shooting anything that might be useful for them, I want to jot down any challenges and successes or failures that I have had in making shots work so that colleagues might see something that helps or help me find solutions to the failures, I want to document the thought process in making the longer form stuff I’m working on and finally I want this to be a two way discussion so please let me know if you have found better solutions than me or think of different ways of approaching problems. I have never understood why people are ever protective about methods or techniques, I will willingly divulge anything that I know which might help a fellow film-maker and I think that makes for a better place to be where hopefully we will all move forwards. What you might have to put up with if you do read this is 1. poor spelling – sorry doesn’t seem to be a spell check and my school was of the time that ideas were the only important thing, bollocks to grammar and spelling 2. rants against small mindedness and petty self development at the expense of others – one of my real hates and 3. willful self indulgance when I discover something that is interesting and new to me irrespective of how interesting it is to others, my wife puts up with this frequently, like my bewilderment on here, there and now  which boils down to my childlike and constant amazement at how different things are at the same time in different places with different people or how I still get a little weirded out every time I get off a plane and find myself in a location so different to where we took off from, or coming out of the cinema and it’s day time…. the list goes on….

Anyway, what am I doing now? Just finished some beauty spots for Max Factor which I am not allowed to put up yet but will do in the next couple of weeks. They came off the back of a fashion slot for House of Frazer, I’ve put a couple of framegrabs in but one of the final films is on the commercials page of this site, this has also led to a similar thing for Monsoon that shoots next week. Also shot a trail for BBC WorldWide promoing a strand of films on conflicting advise on health, I’ll put the film up as soon as I can. Coming up is another BBC trail, shooting this week, also for Worldwide promoing Secret Millianaire which BBC are sales agents for (I think). There are also some longform films in development. The Lighthouse which I will bang on about as we get more into development. It is fully funded by the Welsh Film Council and looks likely to shoot in September this year. Very exciting film with my good friend and superb director Chris Crow. Some of you might already know that we worked together on a Viking Film 18 months ago, Viking, The Darkest Day. We had a ball shooting this one and it turned out pretty well, selling internationally. If you want to see it it’s available in all good retailers, Amazon, iTunes and google app store. There’s a tease in the Drama page of this site. Finally also working on the first block of a feature called ‘The Snare’. This has rumbled on for a while but the plan is to shoot for 6 days in Nigeria in May. This will complete all the African scenes. The film is a thriller that explores how big corporations feed off smaller societies, looking like doing good, but actually positioning themselves for world domination! It’s a rollercoaster and could be fun, spearheaded by David Ogunde. I’ll post more on these as we gear up. Anyway, enough for now, I’ll let you know how Monsoon and BBC go next week.

Framegrab House of Frazer beauty spot
Framegrab House of Frazer beauty spot
Framegrab House of Frazer beauty spot
Framegrab House of Frazer beauty spot