Sunday, June 26, 2011

Showreel: 'At The End of it All'

I currently find myself on a 3 week break from work, the majority of my time thus far has been spent (in no particular order) sleeping, watching movies, drinking in excess, socialising, and watching countless Louis Theroux documentaries on youtube. During this period though, i told myself that i would make use of such a rare amount of free time and finally work hard to go out and shoot and edit a proper showreel piece. Whilst i have done a number of smaller landscape type tests with both live video and timelapse work in the past, i wanted to create something that could stand alone by itself, and hopefully tell a story at the same time, or at the very least convey some connection of a theme or feeling. This was an idea that i knew would challenge me and i knew that going into this project with some set ideas for shots and style was key.

This showreel idea also went with an ongoing dream/goal of mine which is to travel overseas at some point in the future and take my camera gear with me to some of the worlds most stunning locations, and film landscape pieces of them. Among some of the areas that i would love to travel to and film include the Salt Lakes in Utah, Monument Valley, USA, and the Canadian Rockies (among many, many others). So in essence, i decided a short road trip around the lower North Island of New Zealand would suit me well as a trial of sorts. A chance to travel and film whilst understanding the logistics of doing such a shoot. So at midday on Tuesday last week, i loaded up the station wagon, mattress in the back, camera gear in the front, snacks in the glove box, and hit the road. My first destination was that of Castlepoint on the lower east coast of the North Island.


I had actually visited Castlepoint only a month or so earlier on a weekend getaway with a bunch of friends, and was immediately taken with the barren landscape and its 'otherworldy' feel. Huge waves pound the giant rock faces and eastern facing cliffs, which are exposed to all the elements of the South Pacific Ocean. While i did have my camera with me on the previous trip i had only taken a handful of photos, and carrying an additional 20kgs of camera gear to do a really solid shoot wasn't too appealing given the social nature of the situation. I knew i had to return at some point, and soon.

Facing the South Pacific (on my previous trip with friends)

I arrived at Castlepoint at 2pm, after a two and a half hour drive. The weather was well and truly overcast, but thankfully there was little to no wind. With a location such as Castlepoint being so exposed to the sea, any offshore winds caused chaos, and lugging camera gear up the cliffs and filming precariously over ledges would've been a tricky... if not suicidal venture. So with only a light breeze, i loaded up a camera bag with my Canon 7D, a bunch of lenses, a small tripod, and a camera silder dolly i had managed to borrow for the shoot.

Canon 5D mkII, with a Zacuto HDMI EVF, on the Cinevate Camera Slider

For the next 3 hours before sunset i worked my way around the cliffs gathering various shots where i could. The camera slider (basically a small dolly on tracks) was invaluable during this time, and i manged to get some great dolly moves with it which came in very handy during the edit. They really add another level of production values to the film, maybe because i always associate dolly moves on films with bigger crews, but this slider works great on one man shoots.

Just as the sun was setting i set up a timelapse of the clouds rolling by over the lighthouse on the top of the cliff, right up until it was dark.

Timelapsing on the beach

As night fell i was disappointed to see that the night sky was still completely clouded over. As it is so far away from the lights of the city, Castlepoint has the most amazing night sky i have ever seen, the number of stars visible to the naked eye is at least 2-4 times more than what you would normally see. But with it being completely clouded over, i had nothing. So with little to film in the dark (even with trying a low light photography timelapse) i drove up the coast a bit and pulled the car over to the side of the road to set up for the night. Bored, I went to bed in the back of the car at the alarmingly early time of 7:30pm. After an uncomfortable 3 hours worth of sleep i awoke at 10:30pm to find that the cloud cover had almost completely cleared. Disorientated and half asleep i clambered out of the car and set up the camera to do some timelapses of the night sky. The sky out there really is remarkable, even the timelapses that i did capture (and found their way into my video) don't quite do it justice. Perhaps one indicator of how clearly you can see the night sky was that while i was awake till about 1am, i witnessed three separate shooting stars in my brief time looking upwards. Very cool. Three hours of timelapsing, and two glasses of Scotch later i hit bed for the night.

Night sky over Castlepoint

After six hours of broken sleep, i awoke at 7am to capture some quick shots of the sunrise on the horizon, i then ventured back to the lighthouse at Castlepoint to do some pickup shots of a few things i had wanted to get on the previous day. The most important being a steadycam shot running low over the ground towards the shoreline, this being an idea of mine to quickly intercut this shot with other steadycam shots running low over other landscapes. To ultimately achieve this shot and get the camera as low to the ground as i wanted, i had to fly my Glidecam 2000 steadycam (and the camera) upside down, this wasn't ideal (for reviewing footage or filming), and it was an absolute nightmare to stabilise, but it gave me the smoothest shot i could get under the circumstances.

Flying the Glidecam upside down (image flipped in post)

With my filming complete at Castlepoint i hit the road again. I had originally intended to travel North from here to the Manawatu and film there, starting at the giant windfarm there. But somewhere between my less than comfortable sleep in the back of the Corolla and my delight at the amount of footage i had already captured, i decided instead to travel back South to Martinborough and then head home that evening. So as i wound my way through the back roads of the region, on a side mission to find Stonehenge Aotearoa (to see if it was as tacky as it sounded), i stopped at a number of sights grabbing quick shots, anything that i thought might cut well with the footage i had already. It was at the point when i arrived at Stonehenge only to find it closed (oh... such a shame haha) that i turned around to see a picturesque field with a worn down and abandoned farm house at the the top of the hill. The sight just screamed cinematic gold to me. I had found the second loctation (and second half) of my video.

The field.

I immediately parked the car and set off towards the house. Moderately concerned about trespassing, i made my way up the hill in a stealthy fashion... well, about as stealthy as you can be whilst carrying three giant camera bags and slowly negotiating a minefield of cow patties on the way. Upon entering the house, i found it to be a deathly quiet mess, sections of the walls were missing everywhere, mud was traipsed all through the floors, no one had lived here for a long time.

Abandoned farmhouse

The unsettling peace of the house was disturbed as soon as i took my first step into the main room though as i had the living daylights scared out of me by about 15 pigeons that all awoke at once to fly out of the rafters making a horrendous noise. Relieved that my underwear did not need changing, my only regret was that i hadn't set the camera up outside to film the moment haha.

From here i spent the next hour filming various shots throughout the house, i really wanted to play with the idea of silhouettes which was very easy considering the high contrast between the light outside and inside of the house. Not wanting to overuse the camera slider in my film i decided to leave that in car, my shots here would instead be either tripod still shots.

As the afternoon wore on, i was happy with the footage i had collected and i loaded up the car and worked my way home to Wellington, stopping numerous times along the way to collect more of my Steadycam shots for the edit and other complimentary shots too. Exhausted, i reached home in the early evening and hit bed, before starting the daunting task of collating footage, transcoding and editing it.

For the longest time i have had the song 'Intro' by The XX stuck in my head, the pacing and the beat of it really appeals to my style of shooting and editing and i have always wanted to use it in one of my videos. So going into this project i had a good idea that i might use it and had planned a few shots accordingly (the quick intercutting of the Steadycam shots being one of them). While i had collected a lot of footage from other areas apart from Castlepoint and the Farm House, it was obvious to me that these would provide the focus for my video. It was clear that isolation and rawness would be the key themes of my video, it was also quite fitting as my experience on the road, out and about shooting by myself, was also one of isolation and maybe that comes across in the images too. So, after a good 3 days of editing and colour grading i finally rendered it out last night, and i couldn't be happier with the finished video. I feel that while i only really utilised the two locations for it, it still conveys the the isolation and beauty of these two areas, and that my transition between the two locations (via the Steadycam shots) also worked well. So with my road trip and subsequent showreel a success, my time off from work feels a little more complete.

With that, i present "At the End of it All", thanks for reading.

At the End of it All from Luke Frater on Vimeo.

Now, back to Drinking and watching movies.....


Monday, June 6, 2011

48 Hour Filmmaking

As i mentioned in my previous post, i recently spent a weekend working with a bunch of friends on a 48 Hour Film, as Part of the 2011 V 48 Hours competition. It was a hectic weekend of little sleep and frantic writing, shooting, and editing. In the end though it was a great deal of fun and i thoroughly enjoyed working solely as Director of Cinematography on the team and being able to focus on just the lighting and camera decisions.

The genre that our team was given was "Body Switch". While this genre would normally lend itself very well to a comedy or perhaps a thriller/action movie, our writing team instead took it in a different direction, writing a small drama about the events of one day in the life of one young man who relives it through the eyes of four of his friends. In the end i think it was a brave decision by the writing team to write a drama in a genre that was dominated by comedies. But i feel that while the film maybe didn't quite capture the tone or idea we were going for, that it was none-the-less a pretty impressive effort, the Director (Ollie) did a brilliant job in tying it all together in the edit suite in less than 4 hours. The score by Samora O'Neill is also a very strong part of the film, tying together the narrative superbly, and the cast were brilliant keeping the dialogue natural and fun.

So with our film in with 10 mins to spare on the sunday night, we all felt pretty stoked, it was a pretty massive achievement through one weekend. While it didn't get any further in the competition than the initial heats, i'm still really happy with how it came together and how relaxed the shooting environment was, i hope to work on another project with this bunch very soon.

Below are a few of my favourite shots from the film:

and here is the final film: "Breadcrumbs"