DoP Buddy Gaylard on shooting content for an online audience

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Buddy Gaylard on set.

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Buddy Gaylard is a veteran of the South African television industry, having been a director on shows such as Top Travel and Top Billing before developing his career further as a director of photography (DoP).

Screen Africa caught up with the experienced filmmaker to learn more about his new collaboration with TV personality Lorna Maseko – the charming, insouciant YouTube cooking series Lorna With a Pinch of Salt – and the key differences between shooting for broadcast and shooting for online.

Reflecting on his somewhat unconventional move from directing into cinematography, Gaylard says: “Directing has always come naturally to me, and the transition to DoP came equally as naturally, as I felt it to be a further extension of my storytelling craft. At the time, the industry was populated with either unimaginative, tired cam operators, or videographers who were young and enthusiastic, but who had no concept of how to tell a story visually, or how to give an editor what they needed to cut a story together – and the problem was usually arrogance, of not wanting to learn. So, taking over the camera work helped me focus all my time on what I needed to.”

Gaylard then shares some insights into his working relationship with Maseko, which stretches back nearly a decade. “Lorna and I started working together on Top Billing, probably around 2010, and I think part of the success of our long-standing working relationship is that I was there in the beginning, when she was still learning and growing as a presenter. She was always talented and full of personality, but the early days in front of camera are nerve-wracking – and so it’s important to have someone around that you trust.”

Gaylard explains that, as Maseko has gained prominence as a public personality, the challenge has also evolved. “She is now a brand – and every time she steps in front of the camera, she either builds that brand or runs the risk of letting it all slip away. So, having me there, she knows she has the support and the professionalism to match, and we are going to produce the best possible content on the day.”

Lorna With a Pinch of Salt

When asked about the new YouTube venture, Gaylard says: “It’s 2019, we can’t deny the fact that online content is king. And as much as working on broadcast content or sponsored online content is safe and controlled, we knew we needed to start building on Lorna’s online profile. She has a massive social media following and they want content that is just her, no frills.”

He underscores the point about feeling liberated from the ‘control’ and ‘safety’ of traditional broadcasting, adding that – as a DoP – he “was attracted to the freedom we would have to play and to be a little cheeky with the content. Lorna With a Pinch of Salt still has a lot of potential and we are going to grow and keep changing content. It’s about keeping it short and fun, and it’s about content that could live on all platforms and all devices, reaching the biggest possible audience.”

Filming for an online audience

Speaking about the specific challenge of filming cooking shows for an online audience, Gaylard points to some important considerations – drawn from his own experience as an editor – to keep in mind.

“Filming food is about variation. We don’t want to watch someone cook a meal from start to finish from the same three angles. It’s about variety and then a change of pace, either with a top-down jump-cut sequence, or a fun beauty montage with some slow-mos thrown in to vary things up. People have access to whatever they want online, so keeping them entertained and giving them a reason to keep watching your video instead of clicking to anything else is so important.”

However, while the approach to the new show may be refreshingly different, Gaylard points out that – from a technical perspective – the challenges he faces as a cinematographer are much the same.

“These days, there are no differences in terms of quality for online versus broadcast; for both, the highest production quality is important. The online audience is no longer happy with a low-res budget video. Viewers have high-quality phones, computers and tablets, and so online content has to be able to shine on any platform and any device.”

He continues: “So when it comes to shooting it for online compared to shooting for TV, my technical approach is not much different. I will still make sure I have the best gear with a beautiful, cinematic shallow depth look and feel. What really changes for me is the ‘pace.’ I shoot for the edit, so I have to make sure it can be cut together fast and short – but it must still carry that beautiful look, without feeling like it’s been rushed. For TV, I know I can let shots live a little longer – or have a longer drone shot to establish a scene or transition – whereas for online I know I need a one-second shot to move me onto the next scene. For TV, it’s all about the narrative and keeping people entertained (while making sure the story is told); for online, it’s about making the audience keep up, there is no time to worry about if someone might miss something because there are more people that would get bored if you dragged it out. Short, sharp shots are required – and lots of different shots, so the cutting-points (to shorten a scene) become seamless.”

The DP also shared some of his favourite pieces of equipment at the moment.

“I must say, at the moment, my favourite combination of equipment for my online shoots – and in particular my cooking shoots – is my Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro 4.6K, shot flat with the Blackmagic Film to Rec709 LUT applied in post. The end product coming out of this camera set up beats even some of the most expensive cams out there. I pair the cam with Sigma Art range lenses, which are as sharp as you get, and – where possible – some CP2 primes. The Sigma 18-35mm T1.7 lens is probably the one I use 90% of the time, as I like that wide close-up feel, especially for food and beauty shots. The last thing, which also helps save time and budget, is a video ring light. I like to match my background in terms of lighting so I don’t have to start over-lighting everything. Once I match that, then I start fill (or beauty) lighting my subject and, lastly, I create some separation with back lighting.”

Looking back on his career trajectory and successes to date, Gaylard says that although technologies and broadcast mediums may have changed, “The job is always the same. As long as you get the shot and you get it perfect, that’s all that matters.”

He concludes by recalling the best piece of advice he was given as a young professional starting out in the industry.

“I was told by an old school filmmaker to start at the bottom and learn every job along the way. And I did that – so now, if there’s ever a problem with sound or a light that needs repairing, I know how to fix it. I can work within the team, and if there is someone new on set the pressure doesn’t fall on them: it actually becomes a teaching moment. Experience is key so I’d tell young filmmakers to take their time and work on as many of the different positions on set as they possibly can.”

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