So after ten months I’ve reached the ‘25 post milestone’. That’s 25 Shots discussed on my blog, including this one here which amounts to roughly 30.000 words written (on par with a research thesis). On average I wrote about 2-3 posts per month, which is a bit less than I envisioned, but I’m still pretty happy with my output. The problem has never been running out of shots, in fact I continue to have a tough time to choose, there are so many great shots!
More difficult is it to constantly tell different yet relevant stories about shots. I always try to take a unique approach to each shot and focus on -for example- framing, lightning, timing, themes, context, etcetera. Choosing those subjects is of course easier when you start out than when you’re 10 months underway, but I still believe there’s enough ground to cover and explore for me.
For this specific One Shot I do wanted to do something different. It is, after all, a milestone! So I indulged myself and decided to pick one of my own shots. That might seem a tad indulgent, to put myself in a (self-composed) list together with the greatest cinematographers and shots of all time, but it’s by no means meant as a way of including myself in that list. If anything, putting my shot in between those great ones is probably more telling of the incredible distance between the absolute top-of-the-line cinematographers and an enthusiastic young self-taught freelancer.
Anyway, it seemed fun to analyze my own shots for a change and as this is a special post, I figured I could get away with it this time!
So what is my favorite shot out of my own portfolio? When I recently edited a showreel of my footage of the past three years and reviewed my work, I found that there are actually quite a few shots that I am quite pleased about. Though still firmly in the discovery (and learning) phase, I did have the fortune of working on some pretty creative projects that really asked me to experiment and improvise, leading to some of my coolest shots. Actually, that is probably the most consistent line in my work; the best stuff is still the spontaneous and improvised shots. The shots that suddenly dawn on you and you capture in just seconds, only realizing the beauty of the shot once you see it on your timeline.
When you have the luxury of working on an improvisational level and can afford to just ‘play’, that’s when creativity really can blossom. And I guess when you’re starting up (still only in my third year as a freelancing cinematographer) you often have more jobs that offer that space. So I cherish these playful first years immensely!
My favorite cinematic project I participated in is also one of my most recent projects, the theatric short movie Slushpuppy (2013) which I made with the theatre group ‘Als de beren Komen’ (when the bears are coming), who are also good friends of mine. It’s a short story of a man with either a big imagination, or a mysterious power of manipulation as he can change his perceived reality by imagining stories about the things & people he sees. But when he starts following an intriguing young woman, whom he calls Nina, and tries to slowly change her, his grip on the situation seems to loosen and a sense of danger starts to appear.
The film, very loosely based on a play by the theatre group, was made as a way of experimenting and possibly win some local film festivals. In the end it was a great way for us to explore this type of filmmaking, where theatre-like vibes seep into a cinematic context.
Interesting enough, Slushpuppy was one of my more planned-out projects up until now. I started to produce rudimentary storyboards and in-depth shotlists after the first couple of shooting days. Also I filmed everything from a tripod (whereas I usually enjoy working more from shoulder-rigs) giving me time and focus to really think up the compositions. Thus Slushpuppy became one of my most thought-out and precise productions, at least visually. It’s funny then that my favorite shot of that film is not a planned shot but again is an improvised shot…
The shot is from the finale of the film, where our unfortunate hero has slowly recreated the Nina into a dangerous femme fatale and still is completely unaware of the shifting balance of power as he’s slowly drawn into her web.
Especially for this scene was planned out ahead of the shoot. The location had been scouted, positions for the actors were known and all the shots were clear. There was a slight problem on the night of the shoot when the lamppost we imagined Nine to be standing under was turned off. But by attaching a 312LED light to a boompole and holding it above her head, just out of frame, we successfully recreated the lamppost’s light. And even though it was about 14 degrees (Celsius) below zero, we managed to shoot it all according to plan.
BUT, there is one shot in the final film that was not planned. And it turned out to be the best one in there. Here it is.
I never planned to go wide in the end. I wanted to work from the close-ups and get a more claustrophobic effect in the final scene, suggesting the tightening of the grip of the woman on our hero. But as we were standing (freezing) outside, preparing for one final take, I stood at a slight distance and saw that a wide shot also looked very beautiful because of the way the light fell on the environment. I mentioned it to the others, but dismissed the idea because we were already running overtime and it was too cold to just ‘try things out’. But my actors and stylist convinced me to try to shoot it anyway, so we did. And it was worth it.
What the shot brings to the final scene is a touch more drama as we see our hero, in silhouette, walking over to Nina. The angle and distance to our cast help to show more clearly the path he travels, and the wind which blows his scarf upwards gives it an almost western-like quality, as if it’s a showdown. That sense of impending danger could not have been communicated as effectively had I stuck to the close-ups.
And visually the shot brings the theme of ‘theatrical cinema’ to the forefront like no other shot in the film. Because of the lightning, but also because of the geometrical lines visible in the background the environment becomes like a stage. It starts to look unreal even though we shot it out on location with minimal added lightning. Had I stuck to the close-ups the background would not have been so prominently visible, losing a bit of that effect.
Thus, the success of this shot taught me two things. One; never underestimate the power of ‘trying things out’ and just ‘playing & experimenting’. As far as I’m concerned, those things are not just extra but a vitally important part of the shoot. Secondly; always be open to ideas and suggestions of your fellow crew. Because I felt tired, slightly feverish, cold and responsible for my equally tired crew, I would not have made the shot, were it not for the push they gave me.
So that’s my story of my own One Shot. Next time (hopefully next week) I will return with a more traditional One Shot. Also, I’ll promise to increase my output, as one post per month (the rate at which I’ve been posting the past few months) is not enough!!