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David Cornwell

David Cornwell
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David Cornwell lives in Cape Town, where he writes fiction, films and features for a variety of publications. His debut novel, Like It Matters (Umuzi, 2016) has been long-listed for the 2017 Sunday Times Fiction Award.

Bringing the past to life

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Cinematographer Willie Nel, producer Johan Kruger and editor Warwick Allan chat to Screen Africa about the making of Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer, and the starring role played on set by the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera.

Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer is a new feature film based on the historical figure of Rachel de Beer, the young Voortrekker woman whose story remains a folkloric tale of the value of family loyalty.

With the film’s release set for later this year, Screen Africa chatted to cinematographer Willie Nel and producer Johan Kruger about the unique challenges of making the film, its visual style and the pivotal role the Sony Venice camera played on set.

“THE PAST IS A FOREIGN COUNTRY”

As Nel – who, in March, won a SAFTA award for his work on Meerkat Maantuig – explains, “This is set in 1890, after the goldmines were established and when things started modernising, but where [the action unfolds] was still pre-electricity. It’s a great challenge for a cinematographer to explore. Immediately, you ask yourself – how am I going to do this? And, luckily for me, we find ourselves in 2019 where we have access to cinematic tools like the Sony Venice to allow us to explore new ways to create cinema.”

Nel continues: “We wanted to create the right authenticity. Even when I watch back big-budget period films, the authenticity is ruined for me in moments – because I can see they’ve lit the scenes with film lights, mostly out of necessity because of the cameras and film stocks available to them at the time.”

Rather, Nel and director Matthys Boshoff – whose collaboration Nel describes as a “beautiful symbiosis” – developed a visual aesthetic that pays “homage to PT Anderson’s films like There Will Be Blood, with its shot selection and mature, simplified approach,” but at the same time explores new ways to create authenticity through the extensive use of practical lighting and low-light shooting conditions.

Nel describes filming scenes lit only by campfires and lanterns; moonlight that had to be created by the smallest LED sources. “I had to learn so much about my craft in the process. Things like lanterns and candles – they weren’t props anymore, they were my lights. We had to work with the actors, exploring different effects and how we could affect the storytelling by how they used their lanterns or how they interacted within a candle-lit scene.”

While, of course, this sounds like a solid visual concept in principle, how did Nel’s team manage in conditions where their lighting was effected by every flicker of wind, and by every element they were exposed to on set?

BULLETPROOF CAMERA PERFORMANCE

Nel says that, long before shooting commenced, “I was convinced [the Sony Venice 6K] was the only camera to make this film.”

He explains, “It has a lot of attributes that made it perfect for this project. For starters, it has a full-frame sensor – kind of like a homage to films from the late 1950s and 60s – with an ‘epic’ nature and that beautiful, spatial arrangement this format allows.”  The way the camera’s focus works is very particular – it is known for dramatic drop-off in the background of the frame – and, as Nel puts it, “we wanted to create a kind of time-piece, and so the look and feel of the images was perfect for that.”

Even more importantly for this project, the Venice also has two base ISO levels. Its sensitivity ranges from 500 to 2500 – compared to the range of around 800 ISO that most modern cameras have. This is almost three times more sensitive and proved to be exactly what Nel and his team were looking for on set.

Expanding on the quality of the Venice’s sensor, Nel says: “It has a very filmic quality. But, really, in terms of the way the camera perceives the world – the sensor is the intermediary, it is what represents the world on camera – and this one, I think, most closely represents what the human eye sees. The quality of the sensor is amazing; the science of it is so balanced and natural-looking.”

Another key feature of the Venice camera Nel talks about is the flexibility of its range of in-built ND filters: “Some modern cameras put these on the inside, but there are always gaps in the gradations. But not this camera – it has all the different stages going from ND3-ND2.4, so if a cloud goes overhead you can just flick to the next ND and you stay consistent in your exposure levels and control your depth of field.”

This is in addition to its “bulletproof performance” on set, which saw the camera experience extreme swings in temperature; be submerged in water; take rough rides on an ox wagon; and survive weeks of dusty conditions. “By the end of a shoot, you know what a camera can or can’t do,” Nel says.  “With the Venice, there wasn’t an issue in sight. Honestly, it’s like the Swiss army knife of cameras to me, and definitely has set the new standard.”

From a producer’s perspective, Johan Kruger says he was “very impressed” by the camera’s performance in temperatures ranging from -6 to 35 degrees Celsius, and comments that a huge benefit was “its ability to shoot in low-light conditions or at night with minimal artificial lighting required. From a production perspective, it meant a much lower-than-usual lighting budget, with the added value to move quicker between setups.”

He also echoes Nel’s thoughts about the suitability of the Venice camera for Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer: “Most of the time when shooting night scenes, we made use of natural light only – using lanterns or candles. This was a huge benefit to the actors, some of whom commented that it assisted their performance in the sense that they weren’t surrounded by the more traditional, ‘artificial’ lighting setups.”

DELIVERING IN POST

An often-overlooked aspect of any camera’s performance is how it processes data, as well as the ease and ‘freedom’ with which the images it captures can be manipulated in the post-production process.

According to Nel and Warwick Allan of Mushroom Media, these are other important areas where the Sony Venice 6K RAW OCN ST camera excels.

“OCN is Sony’s version of a RAW file,” Nel explains. “But the kind of detail you can get out in the grading process is phenomenal – it has far more flexibility than I’ve seen before.”

Nel also points to the practical benefits of the OCN file format from a data-wrangling point of view. “OCN is a very smart RAW file – it allows you to do more, but still keeps file sizes manageable. Which helps with speed and security when you’re dealing with data on set, where you need multiple backup copies of everything for safety.”

From Allan’s perspective, “There is incredible detail in the shadows and the footage feels very similar to an Alexa in terms of its responsiveness in grade and overall feel. We have found the files to be very easy to work with in post due to their efficient RAW format. We see very clean images, but with a very filmic and organic feel, too, which I find very pleasing to the eye.

“At Mushroom Media,” Allan continues, “we have re-built our grading suite to handle 4K+ material and to work in uncompressed 4K in real-time, so we are seeing pixel-for-pixel what we will be delivering and the images are really impressive at this resolution. The film will be mastered in full 4K DCI for international delivery specs, as we are expecting the film to travel far beyond the South African borders.”

Die Verhaal van Racheltjie de Beer is set for release in October 2019. Audiences can look forward to a rich historical story visually inspired by Paul Thomas Anderson and classic movies of the 50s and 60s, and in which – in the eyes of the film’s technical crew – the Sony Venice 6K RAW camera plays a starring role.

Movievision unveils new showroom

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Movievision, a leading supplier of television, theatre, studio and film lighting equipment for the last three decades, has recently installed a state-of-the-art new showroom at the company’s Wynberg offices, where customers can get a hands-on experience of the latest gear to hit the South African market.

Kierryn Harris, media and marketing liaison at Movievision, says the showroom contains “what we consider to be the most impressive fixtures from all the brands we represent. The idea is that when the client comes in, they can see the equipment – touch it, use it, interact with the fixture – and come to a more informed decision about what they need.”

With fixtures such as Spotlight’s new Hyperion Fresnel LED and Filmgear’s 1000W LED Spacelight attractively suspended from the ceiling on pantographs, John Harrison – CEO of Movievision – explains that the fixtures are connected to a dedicated mixing console to allow customers “to try out the different lights, and different combinations of lighting effects.”

At the moment, the rig is connected to a Chamsys MQ500 Stadium console, but Harrison explains that this will change as new consoles come in – and he demonstrates two brand new options from Zero88 (the FLX S24 and S48) which will soon have their turn to be the hub of the rig.

In addition to the hanging fixtures, the showroom is fitted with plinths where smaller, portable fixtures (such as DMG’s Mini Mix) are showcased. Kim Reed, who is in charge of sales at Movievision, explains that the “items on the plinths are manually controlled, and every time a new product is launched, it will take the place of one of the older fixtures you see on display now. That way the showroom will keep up-to-date with the latest lighting solutions on the market.”

Reed explains that the new showroom will also operate as a place to host “training sessions, for students or for anyone who is interested in learning how to operate these fixtures and controls. We start on the 17th of May with our first workshop with students. These training sessions will be free and we will try run them twice a month going forward.”

“We want this space to be very interactive,” Harris says. “We want people to come in, have a chat and a cup of coffee – and then actually work with the fixture and see how it functions. Instead of us just telling you about it, it’s so much better to experience the solutions for yourself.”

Visit Movievision’s beautiful new showroom in Wynberg, Sandton this month to test out the company’s premium selection of lighting solutions, including the Maxi Mix from DMG and the 1000W LED Spacelight from Filmgear, two fixtures that have recently scooped awards at April’s 2019 NAB Show in Las Vegas.

A closer look at Seriti Films’ new CI campaign, A Seat at the Table

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Johannesburg-based television and commercial production company Seriti Films recently launched an internal corporate identity campaign, meant solely for social media, that foregrounds the plight of women in contemporary society and highlights their intrinsic strength as individuals. Titled A Seat at the Table, the commercial uses striking imagery and bold textual overlays to emphasise the uplifment of woman’s voices.

BOLD AND FEARLESS

As Paul Ramaema, commercials director at Seriti Films, explains: “The intention was to create an internal online PSA around highlighting the struggles, injustices and inequities faced by women on a daily basis, with the intention of portraying woman who felt most marginalised in our society. We wanted to amplify and give credit to those who are bold and fearless in standing up for what they believe in, by using a female-written piece told by a strong female voice and seen through the eyes of strong women.”

Ramaema explains how the team executed the look and feel of the ad – which is notable for its frank, no-nonsense imagery and provocative rhetoric.

“The key idea was simplicity juxtaposed with the striking and almost-emotionless facial expressions from the different women, who would only move for the words in the voiceover – with the idea of making it seem like they are challenging the male narratives contained in some of the words,” he says.

MAGAZINE-COVER AESTHETIC

He continues: “The 4:3 aspect ratio and portrait framing style was to illicit the idea of still images, and this was reinforced by the simple art direction of the single chair – a representation of ‘the seat at the table.’ White borders were used to contrast the dark and infinite background in the space, as well as play into the notion of Instagram filters, where a lot of the time, white borders give the effect of a ‘portrait look’.”

As Ramaena points out, the textual overlays – which underscore important lines in the narrative, such as “Our Place to Speak” and “Stand Out and Be Seen” – do more than simply echo the speaking voice. “The titles are another play on the theme of ‘still images’, enhancing the effect of creating a magazine cover-like shoot, and giving off a sensual, dynamic touch to the visuals, which play against the heavy and hard-hitting words being delivered by the voice over.”

Shot on an ARRI Alexa Mini, with Sigma Cinema Prime lenses, Ramaema says that “it was an extremely quick turnaround time in terms of shooting the commercial, as we were granted a free day from Panalux Gold Island Studios because of an on-going shoot we had at the time. So I had to street cast and use cast members that were involved in the other current project, as well as bring in crew that were preparing to shoot the following day. So we owe a huge thank you to everyone who made it possible so quickly.”

SENSITIVE MATERIAL

With the overtly political nature of the advert, as well as its explicit treatment of the themes of identity and representation, Ramaema explains that the post-production period presented some unique challenges.

“Post was the most exciting aspect, as we had to be considerate of words we highlighted so as not to offend anyone, nor have it come back on us and be received negatively. I had to consult with some serious feminists and I’m glad that the process happened so naturally and worked out in our favour.”

Elaborating on this idea, Ramaema reflects that “this was a rather exciting and simple piece that I had to approach with sensitivity, considering the subject matter. Specifically, I needed to demonstrate sensitivity, not on the basis of it being about women, but because of the type of piece it is and the fact it is being told through the eyes of a man,” he concludes.

Key crew

Director: Paul Ramaema

Production House: Seriti Films

Producers: Jhadi Quinn & Yolanda Hlakula

DoP: Brendan Barnes

Editor: Jade Bowyer

Post-production: Post Modern post production

Tech Check

  • Camera: Alexa Mini
  • Lenses: Sigma Cinema Primes
  • Lighting: 20×20 soft box

“The exact moment the magic happens”: Behind the scenes with ZAP Speed

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

At the 2019 South African Film & Television Awards (SAFTAs), there was an unexpected star on the red carpet: the ‘Glambot’, a high speed camera robot operated by the team at ZAP Speed, which provided beautiful slow-motion shots of strutting celebrities to the live feed of the event broadcast by the SABC.

As Paul Thompson explains, this technology “first debuted at the Oscars about three years ago. I like to think of it as the ultimate selfie – these are glamorous people who love to perform, and so it’s a lot of fun for everyone.”

Peter Constan-Tatos describes the Glambot as “a bit of a show unto itself” and provides some insight into the technical rigours of the operation: “We were shooting 500 frames a second, three-second clips – that’s 1500 frames at 2K every second. We had to get that footage off the camera, cut together, graded and out to the OB van for the live feed. We accomplished this with just eight people – two for lighting, although Paul also got stuck in on that side, I had a couple guys to help me set up the robot, and there was a DIT and a focus-puller and that’s it.”

A ONE-STOP SOLUTION

Of course, although the Glambot was a showcase deployment for the company, ZAP Speed’s operations are far more extensive. Operating mainly out of Foghound Studios in Midrand, but with frequent business in Cape Town, the company provides a one-stop high speed filming solution.

Commenting on the origins of the company, Constan-Tatos says: “We looked at the fact that there is no dedicated high speed service here in South Africa. There is an equivalent that was started many years ago in Germany called The Marmalade, and what they did was bring in all the skills necessary to make high speed filming cost-effective. What often happens is that production companies hire in all the different parties, but they haven’t worked together before, or they’re not working as a team until they get to set – and this leads to costly inefficiencies.”

Thompson adds that “Peter has kept all his gear with Neil [Symon] at Foghound Studios, and we’ve all worked together over the years. Peter is the motion control expert – that’s his background, and that’s why he’s in charge of the robots – while I come more from a commercial and filmmaking side, as a director and lighting cameraman. I’ve also done a lot of tabletop work and Foghound has studios and edit facilities, so we collaborated our skills and decided to launch this new venture.”

As Thompson points out, having this pool of experience mitigates risk – a crucial factor because “any high speed filming is expensive. The robot’s expensive, the Phantom cameras come in at a price, and because you’re shooting at high speed, you need tons of light to fill the aperture.”

A BRIEF HISTORY OF HIGH SPEED FILMING IN SOUTH AFRICA

“Twenty-five years ago, a high speed camera was a big, bulky thing,” says Constan-Tatos. “The Photosonics must have weighed 50 kilograms, at least, and you’d burn about two hundred feet of film just to get up to speed. It was horrific from a producer’s point of view and it cost big money. We were the first to put a camera on a robot in this country. Purpose-built motion control rigs – like the Milo, for example – were the industry standard, but when we looked at it, it was just too expensive. Not only that, but in those days it was locked onto a Mitchell film camera – and we had a younger group of directors who were wanting to shoot video, they just didn’t have the budget to shoot film.”

For those who don’t know, the machines used by ZAP Speed are, technically, “Robots that weld cars. They are general material handling and welding machines which exist by the thousands on factory floors around the world, mainly in the car industry. So the specialisation comes in the programming, as well as in adapting them in certain ways – such as making them more portable, because usually they’d be bolted to the floor.”

In contrast, the company’s veteran Motoman robot – a popular unit still produced by the Japanese company Yaskawa – has been deployed “on a yacht, a fishing boat, up sand dunes in Atlantis and at the top of Chapman’s Peak.”

Constan-Tatos says that re-purposing factory robots has become the new standard in the industry, with companies such as the UK’s Mark Roberts Motion Control now selling these units pre-programmed with proprietary software, and he shares some information about technical developments in the field over the years.

“What’s interesting, is that the robot we had twenty-five years ago – we actually needed to slow it down. Its movements were too fast for the cameras of the day, so we geared it down to get smooth starts and finishes. But now it’s going in the opposite direction again – now the cameras are running so fast, we need faster robots and we’re doing what we can to speed them up.”

AWESOME AUTOMATION

Delving into the topic of technical developments in the industry, Thompson says: “The contemporary Phantom cameras are not only much smaller-format units, but the frame-rates are dramatically higher than you could get in the old days. The Mitchell camera could only go up to 120 frames per second – we’re now shooting 1500 frames, even up to 2000 frames per second.

“Another big development,” Thompson continues, “has been the automation of things like focus-pulling and zooming. Especially in the high speed environment, a focus-puller can’t do the job quickly enough – that needs to be programmed into the robot’s brain. So, we use a focus-puller to do a focus pull on a slow movement of a shot; the robot software then records and stores this data and repeats the focus pull at high speed. We can also program a zoom in much the same way.

“The advantage of this is that you can programme the robot to do the same move over and over again – making sure you capture the exact moment the magic happens. If you’ve got a very precise move, Peter programs that robot every step of the way – so it can do a curve, a twist, every conceivable motion. It’s like a wrist. That’s where the motion control aspect is so useful: you can repeat the same move again and again, but change the background or the action area. Meanwhile, with high speed, the value of having precisely-programmed moves is when you introduce a second robot – you can coordinate the two to work together, with one pouring a bottle at the exact millisecond that the camera moves to capture it, for example.

“To try and do that move with normal operations becomes impossible, because you’re shooting about ten or twenty times faster than the normal frame-rate. You might get lucky with a straight zap-pan to get the shot – but with the robots, we can build in the curve and convey the sense of smoothness of the pour.”

A SERVICE-BASED APPROACH

Thompson summarises ZAP Speed’s uniqueness as a company as follows: “High speed has been around for ages, but what makes our offering special is the camera integration and the ability to synchronise the robotic actions. So you can move the camera and the subject-matter around at the same time, which creates the possibility for some amazing shots.”

Constan-Tatos is keen to underline the service-based approach the company takes: “ZAP offers a specialist service to companies requiring any high speed photography, from tabletop to any form of live action. We have the equipment to move the camera at super high speed very precisely to create very dynamic and exciting shots.

“If someone has an idea, they can come in – we have the machinery here, we can do tests, very often at little or no cost so that we can provide proof of concept for them. Then, on the back of those tests, they can present to their clients and we can go forward into production.  It’s vital with motion control that we’re involved in the early stages – we can save a whole lot of time and money in post that way.”

Thompson agrees, saying: “We offer ourselves to the industry as a service, to help companies create interesting shots. We work as a team to develop that image. We have the skills to go from brief to final execution, but we are also happy to work within crews: work with directors and cinematographers to help them develop their ideas. We have great facilities here, two studios where we can test ideas and work out shots beforehand. Almost all the macro photography work we do requires special effects – perhaps a machine that will throw things around, or throw things up into the air – and so we work very closely with FX crews all time, they are crucial to our business. We have workshops here to develop this skill in the SA industry, we build sets – we are committed to supporting this aspect of the film industry in South Africa.”

Constan-Tatos concludes the interview by revealing the company has just purchased the latest model of the Motoman robot. “It’s a big, fast machine. We’re still in the process of developing its brain,” he says with a smile.

For more information about ZAP Speed, contact paul@zapspeed.tv or peter@zapspeed.tv.

Taking the pulse of 2019

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Five trends shaping the film and television industry this year…

  1. BATTLE ROYALE FOR VOD MARKET

In international terms, the biggest story of 2019 continues to be the scramble for VOD market dominance. Netflix have spent nearly $15 billion in the last two years – building a library of about 700 series and 80 feature films, and attracting real luminaries like the Coen brothers (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) and Alfonso Cuaron (Roma) in the process.

However, Amazon have aggressively started to chip away at this market stronghold. As well as securing exclusive sports streaming rights (including a new deal with football giant the English Premier League), it is reported that “Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sees quality movies as helping to build his brand.” The company’s leader has previously remarked: “We get to monetise that content in a very unusual way: when we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes” – a comment that, perhaps, foreshadows the inevitability of Amazon being a serious contender for VOD market leader in the near future.

On the local front, although local streaming service Showmax is producing critically-acclaimed Original series – with a clutch of SAFTA nominations already earned for Tali’s Wedding Diary – the South African VOD market is still developing as a commercial prospect. A January 2019 report from TechCentral states that: “MultiChoice will carry losses incurred by Showmax in the ‘medium term’, but the goal is eventually for the streaming television service to turn a profit once broadband infrastructure in South Africa and the rest of the continent has been built out further to support it.”

  1. ‘SERIES CINEMA’

As the writers at American Cinematographer magazine put it: “In recent years, series have developed a new form of cinema that rivals theatrical films.”

Dubbed ‘Series Cinema’, this new form has “been enabled by the high quality of small screen cinematography, which is giving a cinematic feel and form to episodic content.”

Moreover, the ability to tell “multi-hour”, complex stories has led to increased psychological depth of characters, and – in the best examples – increasingly enthralling storytelling forms. Dovetailing perfectly with this is the ability to binge-watch series cinema: an immersive mode of consumption to suit an immersive medium.

With the Showmax Original The Girl From St. Agnes breaking viewing records after its release on the 31st of January this year, it is clear that locally-produced series cinema will be hot property in 2019.

  1. GENDER PARITY

The Nostradamus Report for this year – produced by a panel of experts at the Goteborg Film Festival – predicts that we will continue to see increased (and long-overdue) gender parity in film and television productions. Although South Africa is blessed with some high-profile female talent, it is sobering to remember that up to 75% of key positions on film and television productions are regularly filled by men.

The report indicates that this social movement towards greater equality of representation – popularly known as Time’s Up (or #TimesUp) – is being driven both by industry players, “who are organising themselves to put pressure on decision-makers”, and audiences, whose advocacy is making production companies have to “decide to gamble the box office on maintaining the status quo.”

However, the report indicates that although change is occurring, “the abysmal starting situation means that reaching full gender parity will take rather more than five years.”

  1. TVs vs THEATRES

Related to this issue of production standards is the growing disparity between the viewing experience of TV compared to theatre.

In strict technical terms, modern (and increasingly affordable) UHD televisions have a more extensive colour space, a greater dynamic range and are capable of higher frame rates than most cinema screens – leaving American Cinematographer to assert that “the situation of movie theatres today evokes the 1950s, when the studios introduced anamorphic lenses to offer wider spectacles than what people could see on their televisions.”

However, as Wendy Mitchell for Screen Daily points out, theatres still have a role to play in the “experience economy” – and, through their ability to offer communal viewing experiences, can help “transform premieres into milestone cultural events.” This “fightback” on the part of movie theatres was memorably seen at the beginning of last year, during the release of Black Panther, and – just a month ago – local crime caper Matwetwe excelled at the box office on the back of an effective social media campaign that featured buy-in from megastar music DJ Black Coffee.

  1. PROMOTION STRATEGIES GEARED TOWARDS RELEVANCE

As the Goteborg Film Festival’s Nostradamus Report asserts: “In the digital world, especially for TV, the distinctions between linear and library services, as well as between free and premium brands are blurring.”

In part, this is a symptom of the frenetic and often confusing world we live in, where news broadcasters, politicians, information providers and entertainers all vie for our attention simultaneously – and invariably, by trying to ‘engage’ us on social media platforms.

With barriers to entry for broadcasters being lowered all the time – for example, the recent development of the Micro-Enterprise Media Engine (MEME) mobile technology platform by South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – our timelines are sure to be full of more things to watch in 2019 than ever before.

As the writers of the Nostradamus Report point out, this has huge implications for distribution and promotional strategies. Especially for smaller players in the industry, “As the competition is not for sales or box office dollars, but for audience attention, relevance will be as important as quality and production value.”

Be on the lookout this year for promotional campaigns that, like the films they are in service of, “tell stories about the world we live in” and “demand to be heard in the here and now.”

How Viceroy’s latest campaign had the team from Egg Films “dreaming in diamonds”

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Distell – one of Africa’s leading producers and marketers of spirits and wines – recently partnered with creative agency Singh&Sons and Egg Films to produce the Perfect Blend campaign, aimed at raising the profile of Viceroy brandy in Kenya.

Produced and bottled in Stellenbosch, Viceroy holds a large stake of the African market with both their five year and newly introduced 10 year brandies. Distell wanted to reintroduce the brand with a young yet still sophisticated edge representative of this market.

The result is a visually rich, diamond-inspired spot that skilfully carries a lot of different design elements and textures through its 30-second running time, creating an urban (and urbane) look and feel that delivers spectacularly on its brief.

BRIEF AND CONCEPT

According to Robin Adams, director at Egg Films, “The brief for Viceroy was simple enough: the golden raffia (in the shape of diamonds) encasing the bottle plays a big role in the iconic representation of the brand,” he explains. The decision was taken to “use this extrinsic imagery of the diamond and seed it visually throughout the commercial.”

Although this process sounds “simple enough”, the execution of it was anything but. As Adams says, “Each shot had to be meticulously designed and choreographed to work in the diamond template so that, although busy, the uniform structure and sequence holds the viewer’s attention without becoming overwhelming. It’s also important to mention the excellent craftsmanship of both Kezia Eales (art director) and Fabian Vettiger (director of photography) in this respect.”

Diamonds are ever-present in the sensuous and textured commercial – from intricately-cut drinking glasses to futuristic buildings, pixelated shields and carved patterns on wooden drums, a beautiful mish-mash of images that signifies both modernity and tradition. “I really loved the visual design aspect of the brief, and it became my voice as we moved through the prep on the job. My team and I started dreaming in diamonds every step of the way,” Adams says.

UNIQUE CHALLENGES

“What was interesting for me as a filmmaker,” Adams explains, “was deciding to put more of my focus into the post-production aspect of the job. Not to say that it was a simple shoot by any means, but it became a bit of a colour-by-numbers kind of job. At many points it felt like crew members were looking at me thinking, Where does this fit into the bigger picture? But at the end of the day the beauty was in the split screen technique, as this married the idea of the diamond throughout.”

Shot on the versatile ARRI Amira, the advert’s idiosyncratic design required a great amount of buy-in from the post-production team, Adams explains. “With so many visual elements at play, it meant the really hard work was all in post-production. Buying into our vision, the post-production team of Stephen Du Plessis (2+3 Post Productions), Blake Prinsloo (Static Black) and Nic Apostoli (Comfort & Fame) put in an outstanding effort.”

Giving details of the process, Adams shares: “We had four different templates on the drawing board – the “1 Diamond”, as we called it – which showcased three large diamonds with 11 split screens, as well as templates where we could showcase as many as 81 split screens (in three rows of smaller diamonds). Each of these split screens were numbered and coded to allow us control over which shot went into which split screen at any given point in the edit. I can assure you that this reads a whole lot easier than it was practically piecing it all together!”

Over and above this ambitious split screen project, “There was a need to showcase a representation of the ‘future’ of Kenya in one of the scenes,” Adams says.

Furnished with some references and 2D blueprint drawings, “Our online CGI maestro, Blake Prinsloo, was asked to create a building in the middle of the Savanna that would be representative of the techno-cities being planned there in the future. The drawn out blueprint became a 3D printed model (seen at first in the spot), which then became the 3D base model used to build the eventual building and surrounding world – all crafted by the man himself.”

THREE-CARAT RESULTS

Viceroy Global Brand Manager, Renato Santana, explains the message that the Viceroy brand wishes to promote: “As the world constantly changes, so do our habits, and the way we connect with each other. That’s why Viceroy, which has a rich heritage and celebrates over a century of tradition, prides itself in still remaining relevant across the generations.”

Reflecting on the project, Adams concludes: “Inspired by the diamond-patterned ‘cage’ encasing the bottle, we wanted this ad to celebrate the kaleidoscope of forces – natural, cultural, social – that influence and shape Kenya today. My process throughout was to do this justice. Although I might not be the right person to comment on this, I feel my team and I achieved this with excellence – and I am sure this will show in the client’s returns.”

Key crew

Singh&Sons

Creative Director: Roger Paulse, PJ Kensley

Senior Copywriter: Liora Friedland

Senior Art Director: Annie Klintworth

Account Director: Kate Bailey

Agency Producer:  Julie Gardiner

Egg Films

Director: Robin Adams

Producer: Kerry Hosford

Executive Producer: Colin Howard

Director Photography: Fabian Vettiger

Art Director: Kezia Eales

Editor: Stephen Du Plessis (2+3 Post Production)

Post Production: Nic Apostoli (Comfort & Fame)

VFX Post Production: Blake Prinsloo (Static Black)

 

 

 

Risky Business: Managing the mitigating risk in the equipment rentals business

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

In the film and television production business – where equipment is expensive, and all kinds of mishaps and malfunctions may occur – it is a blunt fact that players need to take steps to manage and mitigate risk wherever possible.

Risk – most effectively understood here as the likelihood of losing something valuable – is a defining feature of the equipment rental industry, an ever-present shadow hanging over the operations of both established businesses and start-ups alike. In fact, as Visual Impact’s Goran Music points out: “I think, unfortunately, the less resources people have starting out, their appetite for risk actually gets bigger. This is because playing safe entails going with the best backup and support, full insurance – but not many people can afford this in today’s world.”

For this feature, Screen Africa spoke to rental equipment companies and insurance underwriters to identify the key risks of this market sector, and to discover the steps individuals and businesses take – or should take – to limit their exposure to risk.

  1. GEAR IS DAMAGED

The most common problem, “as equipment has become more technical” – in John Harrison of Southern Lighting’s words – “it has also become more prone to getting damaged on set.”

As Denise Hattingh of KEU Underwriters explains, “In the case of damages, the issue is always why the equipment has been damaged. If it is accidental and not negligent, then it is covered by the policy.  So we work closely with the market and it is very quick, usually, to determine why the damage reports have been provided and you can then move forward on the basis of that.

“Where it becomes problematic,” she continues, “is when they are damages to the camera, for instance, and the production crew didn’t take enough care.  For some reason, they did not know that if you are filming in humid conditions at the coast then you need to actively prevent water damage or rust and so forth. “

To point things in perspective, she says: “But with damages, I would say 95% of cases are covered by the damage report and the process is straightforward. Most often, people trip and fall: it’s heavy equipment and they work in rugged terrains. As an insurer, you work with people you’ve known for years, it’s a reputational issue and most of the time it’s quick to finalise.”

John Harrison shares his thoughts about the frequency of damages in the rental equipment environment: “Is the crew on shoot actually qualified to use this equipment? Do we ask production companies to send around a list of everyone involved, so I can verify that they are all qualified? It’s an impossibility: you can’t do that in each and every case. It could be the old ‘rent a car syndrome’ – let’s just put our foot down, and who cares? Or it could be that some people on set entrusted with the gear don’t know what they’re doing.”

Hattingh also picks up on the necessity for greater training in the industry to preserve and protect its vital equipment: “The older generation of equipment – the big setups where you had physical film going through – I think demanded more respect, because it was big and heavy and very specific, highly skilled things needed to happen. Now, with the new generation of cameras, anyone can use them – or more accurately, they think they can use them. We’ve seen examples where new technology comes out, and a crew member will switch off the fan to eliminate the noise – and then the system overheats. I would say one of the biggest recommendations is that youngsters entering the industry have a proper grounding in how to use and maintain the equipment on set safely.”

However, when all is said and done, the only way for reputable rental companies to manage this risk effectively is to ensure they can provide an alternative solution when things break down. In addition to large inventories, many rental companies have on site workshops and Harrison reflects on the importance of this aspect of Southern Lighting’s operations: “A client engages you in good faith because they need something to do the job. From our side, we need to guarantee them that we can provide back-up so they can do that job. That’s why we’ve been in business for 50 years: not because we’ve got the latest equipment, but because we work person to person and get them on the go.”

  1. STOCK BECOMES OBSOLETE

A related risk – because one ends up with stock on the floor that can’t (or won’t) be used – is the issue of obsolescence.

Interestingly, obsolescence may pose a threat in two distinct ways. Products may become obsolete simply because of the ‘here today, but better tomorrow’ nature of technological developments in the industry, where perfectly serviceable, three-year-old LED lights, for example, will be disregarded because they don’t have the ‘latest’ range of features or mobile app integrations. This is where sound buying decisions and inventory nous are crucial.

However, perhaps even more concerning, is the issue of built-in obsolescence: what to do about gear that has been designed not to be fixed?

As Goran Music explains: “Through the years we became official distributors for Sony, at first, and then Arri lights and cameras, and as such we have had to honour the warrantees and carry out services. That skill is quite unique, and the engineers we have are truly the last of their kind. Their experience is irreplaceable. Equipment, these days, is built not to be fixed – which doesn’t stop us from fixing it – but training is no longer conducted on a component level. If something on a board is blown, just throw it out, they say – put in a new board. But the skill of being able to fix things saves the day in our pressurised environment,” he says, and recounts an international shoot in Mpumalanga where a lightning storm blew out 20 of 40 operating cameras, leading to a heroic on-site repair mission conducted by the Visual Impact team.

  1. GEAR GOES MISSING

Turning now to the unsavoury aspects of risk in the equipment rental industry, one real vulnerability is that the gear you rent out simply never comes back.  Legally termed “absconsion”, Denise Hattingh explains that it is an all-too-common phenomenon – and something that rental companies must purchase additional cover for.

“We processed many claims last year to do with absconsion. It is a standard exclusion on all policies, but the person insured then has the option to bring it back into the policy at an additional premium, and subject to some terms and conditions and checking-points in place.”

According to Frank Meyburgh of the Magic Light Company, it is “unfortunate that these checking-points have had to get more and more severe over the years, but scamming is a key vulnerability for our business.”

John Harrison shares a story from just last year when Southern Lighting “had a new client come in and they furnished us with IDs, company registration certificates, B-BBEE certificates and an email copy of proof of payment. We did our checks – and not one of those documents was genuine.”

  1. VIOLENT CRIME

Far more harrowing was to hear every one of the respondents share stories of violent crime in the equipment rental business.

It is a truism that crime cuts across every industry and affects all people in society, but in the film production environment – where so much is going on, where attention is split in so many different directions and where a single minivan could be housing millions of rand’s worth of equipment – violent, opportunistic crime, in Frank Meyburgh’s words, is “the single greatest concern” when gear goes out.

He says, “We’ve had crews working in Soweto where we’ve had to bring in new gear twice in one week – because they’ve been hit more than once. In KZN three months ago, a production minivan was targeted and all the equipment taken along with it. It’s just thank goodness that none of the shots that were fired hit any of the crew members.”

Hattingh, who deals with a “shocking” amount of these cases, describes a responsive, dynamic criminal market, characterised by groups who “go around the rental market targeting specific lenses and cameras, almost like they have a shopping list.” With Eskom’s recent load shedding woes, “we’ve started to see generators go missing from film sets at a greater-than-average rate.”

While there is only so much individuals can do to limit their exposure to acts of criminality, Meyburgh describes how he has adapted to “being personally available for late-night deliveries, rather than having the equipment transported and housed somewhere unsafe and unalarmed overnight. That’s one way we manage this risk on the back end and try be our own loss adjusters on that level.”

  1. YOU DON’T GET PAID

Although it may seem counter-intuitive – at least to an outsider – issues of non-payment are not associated with insurance policy agreements in the equipment rental industry. “That’s a trade issue,” as Hattingh says.

John Harrison explains, “This is becoming more and more prevalent following the downturn of the SABC. They give out contracts, guaranteeing to pay the filmmaker – and then they don’t. And as the renter, sometimes you don’t know who’s telling the truth. You might have already invested costs into the production, such as labour and fuel, but your debt is not coming back. And if you multiply this by a number of companies, the situation can get quite grim.”

He says that to get recourse in these instances, “you go through legal channels and get the company blacklisted. And then the only way to overcome a blacklisting is to pay off your debt.”

However, somewhat incredibly, Harrison explains that even this system seems to be skewed in favour of the defaulter and to the rental company’s detriment. “These bad debt payments are interest-free. Even if you’ve defaulted 10 years ago, you pay back that original amount. Which is obviously less in real terms than it would have been if it was received when it was duly owed.”

  1. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES

Although established rental companies have ‘been around the block’ and are familiar with their policies and exclusions, Hattingh says that individuals who rent out their own equipment – such as “DoPs who come on set with their own camera as part of a package deal” – are often guilty of bad assumptions about the insurance process.

“The biggest piece of advice is to be clear from the outset who is responsible for the insurance of the equipment. Don’t just assume the production company will be responsible. You need to be clear about this before filming starts.”

Frank Meyburgh, meanwhile, speculates on the “generational aspect” of being caught without adequate cover – or, in the worst cases, with no cover at all.

“A lot of young people in the industry – the Instagram generation, I believe they’re called – they buy their own equipment, but see insurance itself as a kind of scam. It hasn’t happened once or twice, it’s happened a dozen times, where someone will come in and buy a new camera on a credit card – and within a week of purchasing it, it’s been dropped or stolen. And we feel so sorry for them, because this equipment has always been bought on a budget – but there’s nothing we, as the retailers, can do about it.”

At a minimum, Hattingh says, “You need to make sure your equipment is protected when it’s not in use. If your house is broken into, for example, that is solely your responsibility – and if you already booked a job that’s depending on you to be there with that equipment the next morning, you can land yourself in a lot of trouble. People lose a lot of money by not thinking through the process carefully and protecting themselves for things like loss of income.”

  1. THE CLAIMS PROCESS

Although the claims process, by definition, is a beneficial function of the insurance policy – from the point of view of rental companies, it contains its own risks and potential pitfalls.

As Goran Music puts it: “It’s a numbers game” – and, again, it was striking how many similar stories and scenarios were described to me by the respondents.

Going into detail about excess payments (the standardised cost that rental companies must pay for each insured item claimed), Frank Meyburgh quips: “Let’s say 10 Super Speed lenses get stolen, each with an excess of R10,000 – overnight, you have to come up with an excess payment of R100,000 for the pleasure of having your equipment stolen.”

Worse still, what if the loss or damage was due to client negligence, and – already being on a shoe-string budget – they have no money to cover this excess payment?

John Harrison describes innovative ways of trying to overcome this “double-risk” of enormous excess payments, on the one hand, as well as the need to externalise them onto the client, on the other. “At the moment, we’ve got it defined that a shoot is one claim, not every item of equipment on that shoot. This is to protect our clients – and frequently we don’t lodge claims, as we can fix most problems relatively inexpensively on our side.”

In this way, Harrison says, “Insurance is a bit like Medical Aid: you don’t lodge each and every complaint, but you have it in the background for catastrophic incidents. You could make the client pay all the time, but then they won’t be a client anymore – they’ll be too busy paying insurance costs. In our view, it’s better to absorb some of these costs and keep the client.”

This view was uniformly expressed by the respondents, and yet – despite these countless incidents where claims were not made and losses were simply absorbed by the rental company – every one of the interviewees described a “cycle” where, after needing to lodge some big claims in quick succession, they found their insurance policy promptly cancelled by their providers.

This, of course, affects the company’s risk profile – and, as Goran Music puts it, “Now you’re left in a position where you have 30 days to find another insurer, and they’re going to charge you double the previous premium.”

  1. EVOLVING BUSINESS MODELS

The final risk for equipment rental companies in our survey is future-orientated, but it is growing out of the current conditions of South Africa’s production landscape.

Music says, “The national broadcaster really hasn’t performed to its mandate and has decimated the production environment. Small companies used to be able to get by from commission to commission – making small-scale, interesting and independent work and getting paid for it. But now consolidation has happened: only big companies with economies of scale can make it work anymore; they can take on five or six commissions at a time and just float the business if payment is late.”

In Music’s view, this trend will put increasing pressure on small- to mid-size rental companies in the future, and might also see the emergence of “peer-to-peer rental models; like Airbnb for film equipment.”

He does concede that this model might be “problematic in South Africa, because our risk profile is so unique” – and this view is supported by Melissa Warner, an underwriter at KEU, who confirms that business models like this are emerging in the industry, but also that they are “extremely problematic from an insurance point of view, because responsibility becomes so hard to establish.”

With so many risks facing rental insurance companies – and with so many of these potential dangers either beyond their control or else, seemingly, administrated under unfavourable terms – Goran Music describes the need for a Rentals Company Association.

“At the moment, we don’t have a basic code of conduct, or any legal body to represent us and our interests and to lobby for certain things on our behalf. So far it’s six of us that have come together, but we want to get everyone involved and we’re getting closer to registering that Association – as a union, of sorts. It’s a shifting-sand environment, the equipment rental business, and I think it’s very important that we start to take care ourselves and each other.”

“Telling the story in the right way”: In conversation with Marc Rowlston, The Girl From St. Agnes DoP

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

Marc Rowlston is enjoying a good start to 2019. Not only did his contribution, as cinematographer, to the record-breaking Showmax Original The Girl From St. Agnes see him name-checked by co-director Cindy Lee as “the discovery of the series”, but in February he was also honoured with a SAFTA nomination for his work on the popular SABC drama series Emoyeni.

Screen Africa chatted to Marc about his approach to shooting The Girl From St. Agnes, how to work around tight budgets and the fundamental importance of storytelling to the cinematographer’s craft.

Give us a sense of your background as a cinematographer.

I’ve been shooting since 2000. I wouldn’t say I’ve been a DP for that long, but I’ve been shooting a lot in the corporate environment – anything you can get your hands on, you know? I did a lot of magazine shows for TV, kept working and pushing – the hardest thing is to get a reel together. My first job in the industry was actually as an extra in 1986, I was a soldier in a war movie. I was really young at the time, but my brother was in the industry and he kept me connected to it while I was at art school. I played in a band and I tried to be an artist for a while, but I found it too lonely – and then I gripped for about five years, including some big productions like Gavin Hood’s A Reasonable Man. But along the way I got the chance to operate a little bit, like third camera – and I knew that’s where I really wanted to be involved. So I did a few more years of apprenticeship – doing loading and things like that – and then I was ready to start shooting, and some opportunities came up.

How did you get involved in the production of The Girl From St. Agnes?

That was definitely down to Catherine [Cooke, co-director of the show]. I’ve worked with her before, and I’d heard her speaking about the show and it sounded like a very exciting project – and when the time came, she pushed for me. I went for an interview and I got it. Catherine and I have done months of work together in the past, directing and shooting on telenovelas, we did a lot of scenes together and I love the way she works – it’s smart, and it’s fast.

Initially, what excited you about the project?

The idea of doing something for Showmax was exciting – and then when I received the scripts, I read them from start to finish, as quickly as I could. That’s also the nature of the show, obviously, the ‘whodunit’ aspect was very appealing. In fact, the references Catherine gave me excited me the most – it was things like Jean-Marc Vallée, who did Sharp Objects, directors who work a lot with natural light. That was the sensibility. No flags, nothing major set up – just using some practicals and getting a naturalist look that can still be well-photographed and pleasing to the eye. That sensibility really excited me, because you can get stuck in the groove of over-lighting things like faces – and shots can start to look very samey.

That is definitely one of the most visually striking elements of the show: the extensive use of low-light photography, and your willingness to let images stay quite dark on screen.

Well, that’s the thing – the book says you need a key light, you need a fill, you need some backlight, and that stop has to be X and that stop has to be Y – otherwise most producers won’t pass it, it won’t get on television and they’ll send scenes back to reshoot.

I think there is something about the very natural look that adds to the viewer’s experience. The world feels more authentic. It wasn’t about striving for the perfectly lit shot, but rather telling the story in the right way.

And I’m sure the time-saving aspect of this shooting approach was essential for a long-form project like The Girl From St. Agnes, which runs for a total of about eight hours?

Definitely. We had a good production schedule, as far as these things go, but we were still left to shoot about eight or nine pages a day. So this style that we decided on made a lot more sense in terms of the time we had and what we needed to focus on. It was also really fortunate that the style resonated with the themes and the tone of the show – it was a liberating experience, being able to shoot somewhat ‘on the fly’ but with a lot of confidence in what we were doing. And it led to a lot of exciting creative moments on set – asking ourselves, “How can we do all this in one shot? – and finding some stylish solutions.

Another noticeable element is how many of the images on screen seem suffused with cool, brooding colours – blues, teals and turquoises. Were you involved at all in the grading of the footage?

I sat in the grade for one day with Craig Simonetti, who was amazing to work with – and the first version we came out with was actually even darker, and much bluer. It got scaled back a bit in the end, but the art department was so consistent with their use of those cool colours in the design of the show, I don’t think anything’s been lost.

The movement of the camera is also very interesting. Rather than static ‘set-pieces’, there’s an ‘open world’ quality to the action…

This was the first thing I worked on where we hardly ever used marks. It was strange for me, coming from multi-cam shoots where hitting marks was so important – but here, it was on the shoulder, so I would just tell the performers to move around but stay this side or that side of me, and trust that I’d find them. I think the approach helped a lot of the performers – some of whom don’t have a ‘technical’ background – and we (including Catharine and Cindy) wanted that freedom for them. One of the actresses, Tessa Jubber, watched the show and she said, “It felt you were there with every breath of every character” – and that’s what we wanted, we even wanted the camera to feel like a living, breathing presence in every shot.

What was the experience of working with more than one director on the project like?

I’m used to it – but it was even easier this time round. Both Catherine and Cindy were 100% committed to the project, and they came to it from slightly different places. You’ve got to get used to people, the way they work, but we slotted right in and learned to trust each other very quickly. I tried to keep the vision of how we saw things – how we’d spoken about things – in tact, and we had one consistent lighting style, so it all came together. It’s beautiful when it unfolds like that; it’s what I live for – creative collaboration.

Finally, after its successful opening in South Africa, what are your hopes for The Girl From St. Agnes?

I hope it gets me another job! Seriously though, I hope it earns that international distribution deal, and just contributes to improving circumstances in the industry so it becomes a real option to make great television shows here. We need more of our local stories on international screens. We have a voice and we have the talent – I think we’ve matured as an industry in recent years and as storytellers – and all we need now, really, is the backing.

 

 

 

LiveU on Track: How Tellytrack’s Win A Dream campaign reached the nation

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:

In the words of Wesley Lloyd – outside broadcast production manager at Tellytrack – the company wanted to “do something special” to commemorate its Win A Dream campaign, a nationwide initiative that capped off a successful 2018 for the sports betting giant.

“Win A Dream was one of last year’s biggest marketing campaigns – it ran over six weeks – and our goal was to have remote broadcasts from betting centres all over the country for every single day of the promotion. From Port Elizabeth to Cape Town, KZN and Thohoyandou in Limpopo – we wanted to get out there and broadcast stories from every corner of South Africa.”

Lloyd explains that: “In the past we’ve done satellite uplinks, but – once we started to factor in the cost of renting SNGs and MPUs for the duration of the campaign – we realised we’d be looking at a multi-million rand production budget.”

This is when Tellytrack called in the services of Telemedia, who – as Lloyd puts it – “have been great partners to us for many, many years. Our first move out of MultiChoice was to [Telemedia’s] facilities, and we’ve just grown and grown since then. We started off with one channel – we’ve now got six – and they’ve provided all the technical support along the way. We’ve got OBs and race courses all around the country, and Telemedia provides all the connectivity infrastructure for us.”

“When we travel to IBC,” Lloyd continues, “we usually spend a couple of days there with Telemedia and our other suppliers, and they introduced us to a bonded 3G broadcasting system called LiveU. Andy Louis [Director at Telemedia] demoed it for us, and – although I’ve been a bit hesitant about the technology in the past – it fit the bill for what we were looking for perfectly. So I told Andy that we have one problematic site out in Midrand, where our cellular comms are always a bit iffy – and if the unit worked out there, we’d go for it.”

After the LiveU system aced this initial test, Lloyd explains: “From there, we literally sent a cameraman out into the field with a backpack, some batteries, a LiveU unit and a camera. We did a whole live content production with this equipment, where in the past, we’ve brought in an MPU with three or four cameras, microphones, uplink – compare that to one cameraman, one presenter, one microphone, one LiveU unit. The difference is incredible, and it was as effective as a multi-camera production.”

Moreover, despite concerns about connectivity in some of the more far-flung areas visited by the campaign, Lloyd reports that: “Every single day it worked, without fail. And it worked beautifully: the picture quality was amazing, the data usage was minimal – it was a very successful first run.”

Quentin Barkhuizen, National Sales Manager at Telemedia, comments that: “The LiveU brand is the most widely-accepted in the industry at the moment. While Live Bonded Cellular Video Transmission technology is still quite new in South Africa, it’s been used extensively in the news industry in other parts of the world – especially for rapid deployment and ENG situations, because of the ease of use and the cost-saving involved.”

Both Barkhuizen and Lloyd estimate that an effective LiveU set up can be achieved at a cost of about “ten times less than that of a traditional SNG rig.”

For those enticed by what this kind of accessible broadcasting technology could offer their own content production strategies, Barkhuizen explains that: “Telemedia offers two versions of the solution: one is that we can supply the mobile units and the receivers – and then the company who rents them can handle the entire production themselves. Alternatively – what often happens with customers outside of South Africa, for example – is that they come in with a portable unit and then we have a receiver in our MCR. Because we’re a registered ISP, we have an excellent internet connection – and so we could provide connectivity to customers on our internal network through the LiveU system, should it be required.”

Lloyd concludes by outlining some future plans that Tellytrack has for the LiveU system. “The Win A Dream campaign was a first test for us. We’re now in the midst of the Cape Season, so we’ve got another two-week campaign coming up for The Met and we’re going to use it again – but this time, on an even bigger scale. We’re going to bring in three LiveU units from Telemedia, and we’re going to have a crew in Limpopo, one in Joburg, one in Cape Town, and we’re going to go for an interactive broadcast between the three centres in a live scenario. I think this is really going to show the versatility of the LiveU unit, and – again – it’s a massive cost-saving exercise for us.”

Telemedia (Pty) Ltd is an accredited LiveU equipment reseller and service provider.

 

DoP Buddy Gaylard on shooting content for an online audience

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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