18
May 16

Man Alive 

Every poet has a line of poetry that is central to their being, and I wanted to see how that affected them. So started The Poets project, where their line is an essential part of their portrait and shown with make up.

Randall Stephens here is a performance poet, powerful and usually quite intense. The title of his work is also a key theme that he explores in his poetry – ‘Man Alive!’, a statement that in effect is a summation of every part of his masculinity. Besides being lyrically powerful, he’s also a strikingly physical presence….

So what did that phrase truly mean to him? We kept it simple this time, simple black letters, whereas the previous portrait in this series has distorted clown make up. The reason for that is we wanted to strip it down to something more raw, an essence of his masculinity.

I asked him to stare down the camera and show us what ‘man alive’ truly means.


16
May 16

Keeping it sustainable

Charles Firth

How do we make this life sustainable? That’s a question I’ve been dealing with for a long time now. And something Charles Firth and I wrestled with before we shot this portrait.

Charles – one of the founders of The Chaser (one of Australia’s most successful comedy groups), writer, publisher, producer – is someone who should easily be able to maintain a sustainable living. And yet….

Australia is a nation that has a systemic disregard for income from pretty much any creative industry. Arguments about our population size don’t really hold water as countries with far smaller populations manage to keep their creative communities working. Yet Australia? We have a continual ‘brain drain’ – our best talent moving ashore to survive and thrive because they can’t do so here.

What do you do? Especially if you want to keep raising your kids in Australia and keep living the life you’ve been working at for over 20 years?

There isn’t a single answer, nor a simple answer – this life is difficult. I guess you have to be resigned to the difficulty and somehow make it work.

Charles is. And I guess, so am I.


15
Mar 16

A bit of depth

  
Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of posts recently – have been both rather busy, and frustratingly, rather sick. 

Anyway, dipping way back into the archives with this shot, to 2010 and my first studio – Studio M in Zetland. Now, typical Sydney, that beautiful 1920’s warehouse has been replaced by generic apartments. But then, well, it was just a tad magical. 

This image is of one of my oldest friends, Amy. She’s a very soulful person, someone who seemingly has a connection to something beyond and I wanted to show that.
So I pulled out an old lighting technique – a dingle tray – a shallow pool of water which a light bounces into, reflecting onto your subject. Used by cinematographers for the last century to simulate the light from a water reflection, in a photograph it gives you something far more subtle – a sense of water and depth without ever knowing why.
Normally you put a black down underneath the water so the reflection is colourless, but this time I put down heavy blue and balanced to that. The result seems to generate that sense I felt about Amy. 


29
Feb 16

Crafting performance and the nature of music videos.

L1in100000_btsdayone280216_viainsta

Yesterday we started shooting the music video for L-FRESH The LION’s 1 in 100,000, which I’m directing.

The track is seriously awesome. If you haven’t heard it yet, I highly recommend you do! (It released everywhere last Friday.)

Anyway, yesterday was day one. Of four. Which is quite a long shoot for an Australian music video. The reason we’re doing it over 4 days is the scale of our narrative, which necessitates some relatively far flung locations that will need time to capture.

The narrative section will be shot later in the week. Yesterday was all about L and his performance.

Performing for clips is always a strange process. When you go to a gig and watch someone perform live, while they’re usually playing a rehearsed set, that set evolves as they react to the crowd and the conditions around them. That’s where the energy and power of gigs comes from.

Not so with clips. We have to create that energy from scratch.

The very nature of filmmaking also works against us – multiple takes, different shot set ups, the craft of where your marks are and how you can move, keeping time with the various speed changes needed to film it successfully etc – these can all take their toll and sap the energy of the artist. Thus you lose that vital connection.

It’s even harder when it was as paired back as was yesterday – just L by himself with a small crew. No extras, no set, no anything else really. Somehow I had to find a way to make his performance connect.

This is one of the most vital parts of being a director. My job is to make sure that his performance is as vital as any gig, fits both the overarching concept and the narrative, and perhaps most importantly, feels truthful.

I do this by setting a very specific tone on set, which is light-hearted and fun, but also focussed and very very determined. We do not leave until we have the performance needed in the can. So we play the track loudly. We cheer him on; give him an audience to react to, even if all he sees is a camera lens and some lights burning his retinas. I make sure to hold him to the boundaries set for the clip – narrative notes, guides to his character and the physical space within which he could move – so that his performance fits everything else. And then I just let him go. Do his thing.

An artist like L makes it easy. He is the consummate performer – ready for anything and able to adapt to everything. It is always a pleasure to work with L and I’m proud to call him a friend.


25
Feb 16

The spectacular vs. the dramatic. (Dramatic won.)

Long Reef scout

 

So, Monday’s recce was a bust. The location was under construction and we spent a whole day going back and forth for ultimately no gain. In a situation like that, all you can do is roll with the punches and find another location with the right feel.

Yesterday I went on another recce. Couldn’t drag our awesome DOP Lucas Tomoana along as he’s up North on another job… And it’s vital to have another opinion while doing this… So I managed to drag my partner instead and we made a day of it.

Strange process recce’ing. Yesterday we went to two widely separated locations driving for hours to spend relatively only a few minutes at each. One was an hour south, the other about 40 minutes north. Both through traffic.

One more spectacular, the other more dramatic. Both water locations and both tricky to work, particularly since the ideal tide patterns do not coincide with the best light. But this is the nature of both filmmaking and photography – endless problem solving.

I’m going with the more dramatic location. While it’s not as pretty, narratively it’s more powerful, more authentic and ultimately will resonate more with my audience.

This image shows Long Reef in Dee Why – the more pretty location. If you’re in Sydney, I highly recommend you get up there at some point.


23
Feb 16

A love of lighting 


Here’s a behind the scenes shot of my lighting set up from Sunday’s beauty test with make up artist Kelly-Marie Waters and models Annette Melton & Tannie Tong from theright.fit.

Light. It affects us in so many different ways. Different light can make us feel happy, feel down, awestruck at the majesty of creation or fearful for our safety. And as photographers (and filmmakers), we use light to tell our stories.

Many photographers, whether starting out or highly experienced, are wary of lighting their work. Some prefer natural light. Some think it’s too hard. Personally, I feel it’s a skill one should learn, part of the craft of photography. And it can take many different forms.

To those who worry about it being hard, well, it is. But so is driving when you first try it. Lighting is just a skill, a set of techniques you learn just like you learn how to drive.

I’m self-taught and never assisted. I taught myself how to light – it look practise and many, many failures over years. And I’m still teaching myself.

I don’t just light to make something pretty, or dramatic. I light to tell stories. And there are many stories to tell. Sunday’s test didn’t need a narrative – it was a beauty shoot. So the lighting was about sexiness, about colour and about fun. The lighting helped tell that story, and then the models used the light to make the shot work.

All this technical stuff – lighting, focal lengths, framing, post etc All of it is irrelevant without a connection with the subject. Photography is nothing without an emotional connection. So the first thing before all else is to work with your subject, whether a model, portrait subject or a landscape. The best images have that connection. Then lighting pulls it all together.


20
Feb 16

A snap and it’s forever 

 Again dipping into the archives, going well back to 2009 to behind the scenes on the Denim and Thread campaign.
What a fun job. More than 6 years later, it still holds pride of place in my folio. 
This is a funny business. Most of the work you shoot generally isn’t the most interesting (comparatively) – it’s a job and you’re paid to do it. And that’s a wonderful thing – getting paid to do what you love to do. It can feel a bit creatively bereft though. But sometimes, rarely, you’re allowed to make something special. 

That campaign was special. I put up the hero a while ago – https://www.instagram.com/p/_VuYEURG5a/. 

This is a quick snap I pulled off while we were setting up for another shot – we were all in the zone, so quickly – click! Another moment noted forever.


15
Feb 16

The years that shape us

Ollie

Last week on instagram, I posted a double shot of Ollie, and mentioned how he’d gone through a tough year.

I thought I’d add one more to the mix.

It seems everyone who lives a creative lifestyle goes through these intense years. They are crucibles that shape us, but sometimes we come out misshapen. This is something that happened to me several years ago, and it took a long time to get over.

On the flip side, sometimes they shape us into something more resonant and powerful too.

 

 

 

 


11
Feb 16

The person behind the light.

Enzo Tedeschi

It’s a weird thing to say someone is a leading light. Quite a grandiose thing to say really – almost a declamation from on high. Still, in very specific cases, it’s true.

Enzo here is a leading light in the Australian film industry. Over the past 6-7 years, he has been one of the few producers really trying to make the business sustainable in the long run; by experimenting with different release strategies, financing models and most importantly, by producing good content. But that’s enough about what he’s doing.

Let’s talk about Enzo the person.

This business can eat you up. The nature of filmmaking is that it’s a grind. To come up with the ideas, to get the finance in place, to make the damn thing and then to get it out there. Everything is a grind. How do you it well and also have a family? How do you do it well and be a good father?
This is something we talked about today.

Enzo has 4 kids. Once, several years ago, a shoot that was very close to his house went 4 hours over. As a result, he missed his son’s 11th birthday celebration at home. He promised his son he would make it, and didn’t.

That changed something in Enzo. Never again could that happen. Yes, what he does is important; but his kids, his family? Far more important. Missing that birthday caused him to doubt himself, as a father and as a filmmaker; even though his family understood. Could he actually do this and make it sustainable? Not just financially, but personally?

People who don’t know Enzo see him as this leading light, someone who has it all worked out, knows how to make the industry work again. A monolithic character 100% certain of every day. Of course that’s not the case. To be in this lifestyle is to court self doubt and to work around it. And while he absolutely deserves leading light status, it’s good to know the person, not just the symbol.


11
Feb 16

Expectation vs reality and the wonderful human that is Patrick Canion.

Patrick Canion

So we all have expectations. When we meet people we’ve either heard a lot about, or do things we associate in certain ways, often it’s hard to separate our expectations from the reality of meeting that person.

Patrick here is a Financial Planner. I first met him a couple years ago, when I flew out to Perth to shoot a documentary for his company. Like what seems to be most people, I had friends and family whose experiences with so-called financial planners had been…horrendous. In some cases, so bad that it destroyed their savings and/or crippled their livelihood. Additionally, about a month before the video, the Commonwealth Bank had become embroiled in a scandal involving their in-house planners. Things got dodgy and it wasn’t pretty.

So with all this in mind, frankly, I was expecting to meet a self-interested tosspot who only cared about their commission and had the listening skills of a hyperactive squirrel on acid.

…expectation vs. reality.

Patrick was not what I expected. Anything but. A more genuine human being you won’t find, with a wide and eclectic range of interests, enabling him to find common ground with almost anyone. Someone more interested in talking about your life than theirs.

I mentioned before the expectation of bad experience. Financial Planning as a profession has some fairly major issues to work out. Patrick is one of the leading planners in Australia, a man whose integrity is beyond question. He’s trying to reform the business so that this commonplace bad expectation can dissolve. A big task, but something Patrick is eminently suited for.

When I first interviewed him for that documentary, Patrick mentioned how he wanted to be able to hold his head up high when walking through the streets of Perth. His reputation matters. How he treats people matters. And how he makes a difference to other people’s lives; this matters more than anything else.

Patrick, you were surprised when I asked to take a portrait of you. Well, here’s your answer – you matter. You’ve had impact on many, many people, including me.