Vérité versus re-creations

Good storytelling elevates a cinematographer's work. When a director knows what she wants before the camera rolls the cinematography becomes purposeful. Instead of getting b-roll, the camera person is creating specific images vital to the story. 

Of course knowing the story in advance is the domain of scripted drama. It is a near impossible task in most documentary filmmaking and is especially frowned upon in its sub-genre, vérité, where the idea of composing anything is seen as staged and therefore inauthentic. With documentaries you have a sense of the story before you start shooting; however, it is mostly during interviews where the story's direction is revealed. This is what many documentary directors love about the genre. The surprises or discoveries along the way.

This is always a challenge for the cinematographer who is constantly adapting to uncontrolled situations with the expectation to still deliver beautiful images. Vérité documentaries further compound the challenges, making it almost diametrically opposed to good cinematography insofar as it eschews any control over the image, beyond what the camera and operator are capable of in the moment. Lighting is "available", camera support is off the shoulder and there is generally little consideration given to how the people being filmed look. These are real people in real locations and it is all happening in real time. It is authentic filmmaking.

And yet, as a viewer, I don't care how authentic the filmmaking is if the lighting is harsh and the camera moves are shaky, the framing prosaic. My attention is distracted by those shortcomings and I am immediately pulled out of the story.

It doesn't always have to look pretty, but it can't mostly look ugly. So I often advocate for narrative filmmaking elements to be added into documentaries. Errol Morris is a master of this style. And for those directors who bristle at the thought of "staging" something like a re-creation, my thought is that if the emotion is truthful then why not?

Logo (latin: word)


I finished my logo design this week. I wanted something that incorporated my initials, that was clean, scalable and had some of the design elements of my favourite logo, Chanel. 

Et voilà—here is mine. In black.

And in white with motion.

Why a logo for a one-man operation and a company that will cease to exist when I retire? Well, I love design and am beginning to understand its importance in our world. Also, I derive pleasurable in making things, from this logo to the videos I produce.



cropping !


I am pretty sure my current obsession with design has been a latent passion for decades. So what has held me back? Well, graphic design—like photography—has always been a static art form for a person with my background. Almost immediately I have the impulse to animate typography or key frame graphics.

John McWade is helping me to think differently.

McWade teaches a graphic design course on Lynda.com. He is knowledgeable, methodical and entertaining. I am continually surprised and embarrassed by what little I know about things I thought I knew. For example: cropping a photo. Seems pretty straight forward. But did you know that there are seven distinct ways to crop? I know, not exactly headline grabbing news. And yet, as McWade breaks them down, you really start to appreciate how layout can add tension, drama and, yes, motion.

For example, the image in this flyer is nice. The surfer is looking in the direction of the text, so your eyes follow hers to it. But "she is vaguely stuck in a box which is the anthesis of surfing."

His solution? Duplicate the photo and tack a portion of it on the other side of the text. This extends the scene and opens things up. "Surfing is just all about wide horizons and freedom."

This may seem self evident once it's done but for me the mystery lies in the impulse and ability to see these layout problems at a glance.


Creative jolt


About four years ago I hit a road block. The idea of shooting another frame of video had as much appeal as creating an Excel spreadsheet. A utilitarian experience at best. I also felt that my editing work was getting stale. For months I had been reaching into the same shallow bag of tricks—fast cuts, film effects, adding grain, aggressive colour corrects. It all felt very predictable and therefore uninspired. I wasn't growing creatively.

For a creative person I sometimes lack creative solutions to my own problems. Fortunately there are outside forces. Thus, around this time, Apple compelled me to make a decision when they completely overhauled Final Cut Pro. Of course I tried their new app, but just did not like it. So I switched to Adobe's Premiere Pro because it closely approximated FCP 7's functionality which meant that I could hit the ground running, as opposed to taking time to (re)learn another NLE. But the thing that has kept me with Adobe is the access to the entire creative suite; primarily After Effects, Illustrator and Photoshop.

It was this forced migration that got me out of my funk and into a world of endless creative possibilities. Lately my interests are combining bits of motion graphics to my video work. Such as the tracking I used for the text in this project

In this vein, I find David Holm's work very inspiring. His style is polished, elegant and always in service of story. And though there is plenty of flare to what he does, there is nothing showy.

And I wish I could give credit to the creative behind the video series Inside Chanel. But I've yet to learn who they are. I always find plenty of inspiration with each new instalment.

Alright, time to go walk Cookie.