Tarkovsky and the Revenant

Tarkovsky’s influence on ‘The Revenant’

original copyAndrei Tarkovsky’s visual poetry has long remained within film critic circles and in the realm of film studies. Once exposed, the viewers champion his mastery of powerful cinematic language, the portrayal of soul-searching anti-heroes, and his elaborate well-choreographed long takes. His films are deeply spiritual and lyrical, and his visual storytelling has had enormous influence on popular Hollywood filmmakers. To this effect, his filming style has been borrowed and been exposed to the wider masses.

Now 20 years after Tarkovsky’s death, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant stands a good chance to scoop some of the important Oscars this year. However, the question raises whether this film borrows from the later Russian film master, or indirectly pays homage to it. Although Iñárritu has admitted to being influenced or inspired by Tarkovsky in quite a few interviews, very little has been said about the multiple and striking similarities between The Revenant and Tarkovsky’s body of work. Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Mirror (1975), Stalker (1979), Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986) are some of Tarkovsky’s masterpieces whose scenes, one could argue, have been replicated.

The Russian graphic designer Misha Petrik has produced a comparative split-screen film which is a must-see for any informed cinema lover – especially if you have fallen under the spell of Iñárritu’s latest work, admired Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance, and Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography.

Petrik’s film has caused a bit of internet stir, particularly with Russian and Mexican cinema fans debating over the issue of paying tribute versus blatant plagiarism.  If an Oscar is given to The Revenant this year, Tarkovsky’s shadow may well loom above the prize, which is associated with providing work of excellent artistic merit.

Have a look at Petrik’s film here:

 

 

 

 

 

Shooting ‘mirrorless’ on an observational documentary

Shooting ‘mirrorless’ on an observational documentary

There are obviously key advantages and some pitfalls shooting video with a mirrorless camera on an observational documentary. The challenge was well worth it especially because it was my first documentary production opportunity for SBS, the Australian broadcaster. The film, entitled “Caged” and produced by In Films, will transmit in early 2016. It follows the life of six martial arts fighters as it attempts to open a lid into this subversive world.

I was in charge of the cinematography, covering a sequence in Jakarta, Indonesia. It focussed on Sydney West’s Martin Nguyen’s attempt to reach global stardom in MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) at the expense of current interim world champion Marat Gafurov. The preparation, trials and tribulations of this particular event will be revealed in the documentary.

Capturing the content proved exciting and challenging: The Sony A7S cameras have revolutionised some of the broadcasting standards, as video equipment has become more compact year on year. Removing the mirror optical reflex viewfinder has made this camera less bulky and super lightweight. The shift to smaller cameras definitely started with the likes of Canon DSLRs, the GoPro, and the Blackmagic camera systems a few years ago. However, as opposed to the cameras mentioned, the Sony A7S offers the advantages of full-frame cinematography, with slow motion capacity and an incredible low-light sensor – all of this packed in a lightweight compact body.

Also, it is compatible with a wide range of professional lenses, whilst offering the possibility of picture profiles that match his bigger Sony broadcast cameras. The incredible dynamic range, and the possibility of easily matching the ‘visual look’ with more accustomed Sony broadcast cameras were an obvious choice on this production, as the bulk of the production was shot on Sony FS7s.

On the face of it, these are perfect features for inconspicuous and not “in your face” documentary filming. Some aspects were difficult to handle though. The manual focusing when using zoom lenses is one obvious challenge. The lenses are definitely heavier than the camera, and at times, it becomes slightly unstable to operate the camera smoothly and some camera movement is sometimes inevitable when pulling focus manually.

To keep the camera as streamlined as possible, we decided to just go with a small cage rig. This enabled us for better operation and to accommodate for sound. We also used a Metabones adapter to accommodate a selection of Canon EF lenses. However, no follow focus system or external monitor was added into the mix. The camera’s LCD screen has the aptitude for focus peaking assistance, but it is definitely not the best peaking system around. You need to take your time to make sure your subject is in focus, which is challenging when shooting documentaries on the fly.

In conclusion, the quality coming out of this camera is simply remarkable considering its price point. You can turn up your sensitivity or ISOs with very little noise visible, and therefore shoot at your desired aperture. Controlling your depth of field has never been easier. Provided you are using image stabilised lenses, you can get away with some tricky handheld operation. Finally, even though its color depth is only 8-bit, the results are pleasing and the footage grades well. It’s been great to work with this new camera, and I hope others will enjoy the benefits of a super lightweight camera system when shooting films.

 

The raise of a new film industry in South East Asia: Malaysia

The raise of a new film industry in South East Asia: Malaysia

Throughout 2014, our producer Janos Jersch has been hired to oversee and co-ordinate a training programme designed to strengthen the film and television crew base in Malaysia. The scheme was run by IRDA, PIMS and the Met Film School, with expert practitioners as tutors, it oversaw the training of about 900 participants.

The Malaysian Government is seeking to attract a host of international film productions, having invested $170 million in a state-of-the art film studios: the Pinewood Iskandar studios. It also offers further financial incentives through a 30% cash rebate scheme on film budgets exceeding $1,5million.

The Weinstein Company has already finished the production of its new Netflix series entitled Marco Polo, and is set to premiere at the end of the year. With this exciting new development, plenty of graduates of the training scheme have been enrolled to work on Marco Polo, and are now raising the professional standards of the local film work force. Now the floodgates are open, let’s see where the Malaysian film magic takes us over the next few years.

 

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Filming and Photographing a Camel for eHarmony

Filming and Photographing a Camel for eHarmony

 

EO0A7063_3We have been entrusted the difficult task of producing all the publicity photography and  creating a ‘behind-the-scenes’ video of eHarmony’s latest TV commercial shoot, on a shoestring budget. This feat was done by using just one camera, namely the Canon 5D mkIII, which shoots HD video and records full frame professional photography. The challenge really came from the limited time given between the commercial’s film takes to work with the actors, using existing lights, and having to constantly change settings between photography and video modes without missing the all-important key moments.

Given the constraints, we were very pleased with the results and the opportunity to work with actors in a professional commercial set alongside a fantastic camel. It took a couple of apples and carrots to get the attention of Kokoso, the camel, who was well behaved throughout the shoot. Kokoso became the first professional transvestite camel as he was transformed as an alluring female with a pearl necklace for this unfortunate date.

 

If you haven’t seen the 30-second TV commercial in the UK this summer, have a look here:

eHarmony UK Camel TV Advert

Our behind the scenes video showcasing the nitty gritty work behind the lens can be found here:

The Behind the Scenes Video

 

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Tilt-Shift Focus Technique

Tilt-Shift Focus Technique: The miniature effect used in videos

 

NaokiTricking your audience into representing reality as a miniature has been used by a few video producers with great effect. The idea is to photograph a scene as if it was seen from a magnifying glass or using a macro lens to investigate something extremely small. By blurring the foreground and background of a scene, and leaving elements of a scene in sharp focus in the middle of the frame, the audience is visually trumped. The optical illusion is simple: we’re looking at a normal scene with the visual attributes of a macro lens. Cars, buildings and persons look like toys from a model set. As a result it looks surreal, almost artificial.

This miniature scene created optically can be further enhanced if taking your shot from a high angle, looking down at a scene, i.e. the same way we would study ants at work by observing them from above. Most documentaries using macro photography undergo the same process; physically it is logical to see from a vantage point, but by looking and focusing at the very  small, we also take on the perspective of a giant. The relation between depth of field, detail, angle and scale induces the brain into miniature trickery.

Canon Tilt-Shift Lenses

Historically, video producers have taken inspiration from  photographers using proper tilt focusing glass, such as Naoki Hono’s photo (above), whereby the focusing plane can be physically titlted and shifted optically within the lens itself. Nowadays , blurring foreground and background, so often associated with shallow depth of field, can easily be achieved through a post-production process. In 2006, Thom Yorke’s Harrowdown Hill, directed by Chel White is often credited with being the first video using tilt-shift technique.

Finally, fast motion or timelapse photography used in conjunction with this creative focusing technique, will add to the sense of altered reality. The miniature scene now looks as if it was a stop-motion animation. Everything that’s associated with photographing a realistic scene or action, has been stripped away by modifying natural motion. This is particularly fascinating with City of Samba, an incredible tilt-shift film by Keith Loutit and Jarbas Agnelli. This is a clever, beautifully composed, and fascinating video loveletter to Rio de Janeiro (which you can view at your pleasure by pressing on the hyperlink).

Hugo Boss 2013

Hugo Boss commissions Horizon with photographing their new European stores

 

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Throughout the summer of 2013, we will photograph the new Hugo Boss stores in the UK, Scotland and Ireland to coincide with their launches. It is the second time we have been granted a series of work for Hugo Boss, continuing a promising and productive relationship.

We do specialist photography to capture the width of the stores whilst ensuring the images do not suffer from distortion. We capture up to eight images. We stitch them and recomposit them in post-production. That way we allow viewers to see wall to wall, and floor to ceiling and recreate the most realistic image.

It means a great deal to work with Hugo Boss, as they are greatly aware of the power of the image. They work tirelessly on their photographic campaigns, and are very daring in their pictorial styles. So it’s an honour to be entrusted to work on their press pictures.

A personal favourite is this photographic stunt, capturing Alex Thompson, Hugo Boss’ solo skipper walking on ther boat’s keel, with strong gusts of wind and freezing temperatures. As opposed to what we do for Hugo Boss, this image was not photoshopped!

 

Hugo Boss