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.


09
May 16

A wonderful lack of cynicism…


It’s interesting what this business does to us. Being a professional creative of any kind; whether designer, photographer, art director or creative entrepreneur is a recipe for cynicism. You field ridiculous requests, ridiculous pay offers, ridiculous working conditions and deal with ridiculous people. Of course, when those offers are the good ridiculous, it’s amazing. But often, they’re not.

Taryn Williams founded and runs one of the most respected model agencies in the country – Wink Models. And then, just because she needed to have less sleep, she decided to start a new, well, start up – theright.fit.

Running a modelling agency means that level of ridiculousness is exponentially higher… Taryn here has quite literally seen and heard it all.

So it’s so refreshing to see someone that’s not cynical. 

Cynicism in small quantities is vital – it layers your hopes with pragmatism, something that only really comes from weary experience. But in larger quantities, it becomes toxic. To be creative is to be open to our dreams and the beauty of the world around us, not looking around with suspicion.

How do you keep it at bay? Well, in Taryn’s case, it seems to be by always keeping it fun. But at the same time drawing strict boundaries. And always remembering, what we do is generally not fundamentally that important. We make beautiful things, but in the end, we don’t save lives or affect people’s livelihoods. 

I asked Taryn to think about the scope of what she does, her hopes and dreams, unfettered by cynicism, and this is the result.


31
Mar 16

The first time with L…

  
As we count down the days to release for the L-FRESH The LION’s 1 in 100000 clip, let’s look at the man himself – L-FRESH. I quickly grabbed this shot while he was watching playback on his performance on set.

L’s now a friend, but I first worked with him years ago on yet another music video. However, the shoot for this one did not go at all smoothly…. In fact, pretty much everything went to hell. We had rain issues, location issues, safety issues, lighting issues, generator issues and wardrobe issues. Even our issues had issues… The whole day went out of our control.

But before the shoot day, we had collectively made the decision that all the artists (there were two featured artists in the clip, L was one of them) would be on set for the entire shoot. Oops.

L’s section was meant to be shot in the afternoon. However, because of those issues, L had to wait around for something like 19 hours before we could get to him. 19 hours! That’s friggin’ crazy.

And yet, when we got him on camera, instead of being tired or flat, he was absolutely amazing. His first take floored us. His second take was even better.

We all loved his music, but everyone on set became a true fan that day. I’ve shot L a few times since, both stills and video, and have seen him perform any number of times. He still floors me every time.

And you know what? A lot of the same crew are on this clip today because of that.


19
Mar 16

Success?

  
Dipping back into the archives again with this image, which shows my friends at Mak Mak almost at the beginning of their journey…

Now they’re continually recognised as one of the best macaron producers in Sydney, something they’ve achieved in only a few short years, but then? Then they were barely past starting out. And I wanted to show that.
The doorway (made of macarons) represents ‘success’, with a pathway of sugar leading the two founders towards it; from the mundane world to something else. And as they were at the beginning, they were still at the space in between. 

That’s how all of us who work for ourselves feel – we leave the mundane behind – of full time jobs and security and usually boredom, to make something special. That path is hard and long, and oftentimes we never reach ‘success’ because our ideals of success keep changing. Are we successful when we’re respected? Rich? When we have a great family life? When we’re lauded?
If you ask Carlos from Mak Mak if he’s successful, he’d likely say no. Sustainable, yes. Successful, no.

Speaking of success, this image to me is mostly a failure. I hate the attitude of ‘fix it in post’ – you should get it right in camera. That’s part of the craftsmanship of a photographer. But in this case, well, our retoucher Sam Hawken fixed the shot. 

I nearly bollocksed it up – the perspective on the two founders is wrong; the backgrounds don’t really match up; and while the doorway is an epic prop, the rest of the image doesn’t feel at the same level.

Yet, it works. Sam managed to pull the image together and make it feel cohesive. 
On a job this would never have happened. But, as I’ve mentioned before, with personal work we have the liberty to muck things up. That’s part of the learning process.
So, is it successful?


16
Mar 16

Promo on set 

  
Again diving back into the archives with this shot of 360 from 2011.

As both a photographer and director, I often shoot stills whilst also directing on set – this for instance was while we were shooting the clip for Boys Like You. Had very little time to grab the image though – about 5 minutes. 

The look was very ‘in’ at the time, and as the label was EMI, they wanted to stay on trend. Often, what that means in reality is to make something generic. Luckily, with an artist like 360, generic can’t happen because he’s so strong on camera. 

I still wish we could have done something more interesting with this image and his rather wonderful expression, but considering the constraints, happy with the result. 

And had a happy client. They used this shot on posters absolutely everywhere. 


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. 


11
Mar 16

The DOP and the director 

  
This wonderful shot is behind the scenes from our music video for L-FRESH The LION last week, shot by DOP Lucas Tomoana.

I thought I’d explore the relationship between a director (i.e. me) and their DOP – director of photography, aka cinematographer. 
The 3 critical relationships for a director are with their producer, editor and DOP. As film is perceived as a visual medium before all else, the DOP is the one who helps you realise it. 
He or she is your right hand, the one you rely on for feedback, usually before anyone else. Whether it’s a music video like last week, a commercial or drama, the DOP is your first point of call.
It’s vital to establish trust between the two of you. Without trust, or if that trust is lost, the whole thing can turn into a disaster.
When time gets crunched on set and you’re desperately trying to figure out if you have enough shots to make the scene work, your DOP is the one you turn to. When you have a half formed idea, your DOP will evolve it into a fully realised concept and approach. And when you find the right person, it often becomes a working relationship for life. 
Photographers might ask – why don’t you shoot it yourself? The simple answer is that you need to focus on so many separate elements as a director, the mechanics of shooting would interfere. Also, it’s a whole different skills set. That might sound weird considering both filmmaking and photography use cameras and lighting; but while both are very much the same, they are also vastly different with their approach.
Photography is the photographer’s medium, but we all know there’s also stylists and retouchers and talent and make up artists etc involved. Filmmaking is the filmmaker’s medium, and that starts with the DOP.


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.


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.


16
Feb 16

The weird and wonderful world of recce’ing.

Location scouting in Helensburgh

Yesterday we were on a recce (location scout) for a job.

Recce’ing is vital. You scope out potential locations and figure out if they fit your brief and concept. Can we shoot here? Are there strong angles? What’s the light like? Do the colours work? Most importantly, does it work for the narrative – is there a motivation to be there?

You also need to check if the location is workable logistically. Is there parking? Toilets? Is it safe? Is it a long distance to the shooting area from your unit base (where we keep the unused gear, make up, wardrobe, catering etc and often where the vans and cars are parked)? Do you need special equipment to work the location – cranes, cherry pickers etc?

Recce’ing is also fundamentally weird. Sometimes you’re by yourself or just with a key creative like our DOP Lucas yesterday. And sometimes you have a whole team of people with you – the producer, the DOP, the gaffer, the art directors, the stylist, etc. Basically, you all stand around and point. Then have a discussion. Then point some more. Then move to a different spot and point a little more. Then usually have a polite argument. Then point just a tad more. And then you move on to the next location.

But they’re also adventures. You get to explore. Often unexpected, unusual and sometimes even unlikely places. And then you plan how to transform those places for an image or for a film.

Those places become magic.