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.


12
May 16

The process we take 


Originally I had a different caption planned for this portrait. However, plans change.

So I thought I’d talk about the process I take with these portraits…

Each image is of someone I’d call powerful. I don’t mean powerful in the sense that they have clout (though some undoubtedly do). I mean powerful in that they have impact. These are not people who float through life. These are people who create change around themselves, who affect others because of what they do and who they are.
I shoot these portraits because I want to hear their stories. And I want to tell their stories. These portraits are in and of themselves stories, accompanied by words that hopefully add to what you see in their faces.
With each person, we sit down and talk. It’s that simple. Each session usually takes about 2 hours, and the actual taking of the photo is often barely 15 minutes, something that happens after we’ve had a chance to connect.
I don’t go in with a plan on how to shoot them. Each one is organic, and only when we’re in the studio do I start to think about the mechanics of how I’m going to light them and framing and such.
To shoot these portraits is a privilege. In fact, to have this lifestyle that I have is the ultimate privilege. So, hopefully, these portraits give back just a little to the universe.

This image is of Tatyana Leonov, travel writer. I can’t say much as Tat understandably wants to keep private. Suffice to say that she most definitely creates impact as a person, and manages to lead a life that is both inspiring and just sometimes jaw dropping.


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.


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.


03
Mar 16

A quick noir.

img_7130-2

Apologies for the radio silence this week, have been slammed on a few different jobs and prepping the clip we’re shooting this weekend.

Today I thought I’d share a little portrait I did for actor Andrew Steel from last year.

He wanted noir. Classic noir.

These things are always fun to shoot – use some blinds, get the light shooting through them, some classic wardrobe and a smoke and suddenly you’ve got noir.

Lots of squinting later, we got this shot.


01
Mar 16

The shifting of locations 

 Last week I posted about our recce to two locations, and my decision to shoot in the more dramatic of the two. That location was the mangrove wetlands in Bundeena, pictured above.

Unfortunately and frustratingly, the national parks came back to us yesterday with a firm no. It is understandable – they’re concerned that a mass of people walking through the wetlands could damage the root systems of those wonderful trees.
Thankfully, I have a backup. 
Changing shoot locations can sometimes be a simple matter of substitution. And sometimes, a different location will completely upend the narrative and tone. In this case, I’ll have to rework the narrative structure in some places but that’s all.

Such is the nature of filmmaking – endless problem solving.


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.