According to the British Fashion Council’s Value of Fashion Report 2010, the UK fashion industry contributes £37 billion to the economy and directly employs 816,000 people, making it the largest employer of all the creative industries. I try to relax watching Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus; I’ve been slowly ticking off the great man’s work, first reading the books and then watching the films. I find the books are essential, especially when watching 2001 and more recently The Shining, which scared me half to death. I marvel at the monumental levels of effort that Kubrick went to in order to fulfil his vision. I always feel nervous before shooting, and the more uncertain the shoot the more nervous I get. There is nothing certain about the outcome of this shoot. My hope is that the finished film short will give the viewer a glimpse of what it feels like to be a part of the strange, mystical and magical world that we are about to enter. As always I want the final result to be beautiful, atmospheric and to some degree meaningful and real.
As it’s DSLR I have two trusted Manfrotto tripods (546GB legs, 501HDV head, a firm favourite with a very easy levelling system) and one compact lightweight (190CXPRO4 legs, 701HDV head) along with a rented Glidecam HD-2000 camera stabiliser and Manfrotto monopod (682B). For sound it’s the usual Rode on-camera along with a Rode studio mic and Tascam portable recorder. Additional lighting comes from the ever-faithful Litepanel 1x1 Bi-Color LED with an array of gold, white and silver reflectors for subtle fill. Media comes in the form of four SanDisk Extreme Pro 90MB/s UDMA6 CF cards along with the essential Lexar CompactFlash Pro card reader.
Backstage it’s bright light, hot as hell, make-up mirrors, the sound of an advancing army of hair dryers, and little pockets of peace and quiet for the art of make-up application. Models, eating, sleeping, texting; hair stylists, make-up artists, stylists, production crew, designers, dressers, seamstresses, the list goes on.
When I stand back and look at this somewhat confusing, bewildering and dazzling array of hardware I think, “What the hell have I got myself into?” but quickly dispel the thought when I imagine the potential results. Given all this hardware it’s difficult to believe that I can still shoot so freely and move so easily but there is no getting away from the fact that it would not be possible without Billy and Michael. The DSLR equipment is far more cumbersome than the camera alone, but Zacuto has made a fine job of creating a modular system that can be assembled and broken down very quickly and easily. I decide to shoot almost everything on the Canon EOS-1D MkIV. It has a very long battery life, excellent low light capability, 50 fps (if needed) and a reassuring weight and strength. The 5D MkIIs will be static cameras shooting from occasional fixed positions on tripods or monkey grips. Day one is a reacquaintance with the fashion show and the multitude of moments and opportunities it brings. Backstage it’s bright light, hot as hell, make-up mirrors, the sound of an advancing army of hair dryers, and little pockets of peace and quiet for the art of make-up application. Models, eating, sleeping, texting; hair stylists, make-up artists, stylists, production crew, designers, dressers, seamstresses, the list goes on. The smell of a hundred different products, walls of clothes rails, boxes of shoes, model cards allocating wardrobe and space, tables full of accessories, steamers, ironing boards, Hoovers, bottles and bottles of water, grapes, sandwiches and Haribos, radios, clipboards, note pads and cameras. Lots of cameras. Interestingly it has been two seasons since I was last backstage and nearly all the photographers are now using Canon. In fact I have to look hard to find anything else. Most are now shooting video with all manner of DSLR contraptions, from the professional to the home-made (aluminium, rods, wood and weightlifting weights). It’s chaos and calm, both at the same time. Shooting backstage is no picnic but my drive and passion to capture this world in moving pictures pushes me into the very necessary spaces which are normally the domain of the models, hair and make-up artists. All are patient and polite and there is a peace that exists due to this symbiosis of being made up to be seen and recorded. There is so much to shoot here it’s almost overwhelming and I have to keep reminding myself that although I’ve shot shows many times in the past I must try to see this as if it were the first time as I move from 85mm to 50mm and then 100mm macro. Both Billy and Michael have never been backstage before and I watch their reactions as we walk from hair and make-up to wardrobe, line-up, rehearsals and catwalk. As we have five shows in the one location the final edit can be cut from elements of each, enabling the finished film to appear as one show, shot from a multitude of angles. I like the idea of this eclectic mixture of people, colour and styles all wrapped up into one. The available light is for the most part bright tungsten and we decide to set the white balance accordingly. It is simply not possible to keep manually resetting the white balance, so this compromise must be made. All cameras are set to record PAL 25fps 1,920 x 1,080p on manual, LCD monitor brightness at 4 (vital when this is the viewfinder) with grid display switched on and picture style set to neutral.
Day one goes well and even exceeds my expectations, with some great static and panning footage shot on the tripod with the 50mm f/1.2 as the models come off the catwalk and rush to change and then reappear. The Zacuto Crossfire can be lifted off the tripod in one move and I work handheld, walking through the line-ups shooting into light as girls have last-minute tweaks to hair and make-up while what seem like dozens of photographers fight for positions. I switch to the Glidecam and a 5D MkII along with the 24mm f/1.4 Mk1 (I love the way this lens shows the elements when shooting into light). Handheld again and I’m changing lenses quicker than the models are changing outfits: 35, 85, 135, 24, 100, 135, each time making sure to allow the camera to do a sensor clean, which is in addition to a manual sensor clean with the blower, every hour or so. Billy and Michael are pros and make it look effortless, Michael literally running to download cards. As with stills the shooting is intuitive, reacting to what I see, trusting much to instinct, but unlike stills I must make sure I have covered multiple angles, focal lengths and cutaways to make sure there is plenty of material for the edit. One beautiful piece of moving imagery will work better when seen from different viewpoints.
By day two it’s clear that the three of us are working as a tighter unit. For many assistants DSLR is still new and learning to assemble and disassemble the gear is very different to the skills needed for stills. As the day unravels I'm beginning to enjoy myself and relax a little, knowing that we already have many very usable shots. Billy has to leave at lunchtime as he is photographing Bee Gee Robin Gibb at a recording studio in the West End, and so Michael and I trim down the gear and head to the catwalk. First I shoot the rehearsal from three angles moving from wide to tight, and then I position myself in front of the photographers’ pit (it’s a run through and nobody minds) with the 135mm f/2. I let the models walk into the f/2 focal plane and then out again, the beautiful soft shapes gradually moving into focus to reveal determined faces full of attitude. I linger on this, as the bokeh is mesmerising and dreamlike. Before the show we take a position centre and back overlooking the audience and catwalk. Michael stays with the tripod and I head off with the Zacuto Crossfire, EOS-1D MkIV and 35mm (nudging 50mm due to the MkIV’s sensor size). I move freely in the midst of the melee and there is a feeling of detachment as I watch the proceedings through the viewfinder. Again I follow my instincts and just let the world unravel around me. I stand like an island in the middle of a surging tide of celebrities, fashionistas, journalists and photographers. Turning, I move downstream circling interviews, conversations and looks of recognition followed by fashion kisses. Behind me there is an explosion of flashes and I turn to see Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife Samantha surrounded; she sits calmly as tens of photographers just feet away open fire again and again. A quiet anticipation follows and the lights dim. I am now behind the onlookers, camera on tripod and 14mm... sssh, sssh and then music, mobile phones dance like fireflies and then light. Too much light; I quickly stop down the lens as models walk from left to right across the top quarter of the viewfinder. Happy with the 14mm footage, Michael hands me the 24mm, then 35mm, 50mm and finally 85mm. My hope is that this will cut well in the edit, finishing on a 50mm ultra-tight shot on the shoes (to be shot later that day).
Day three. Because much of the detail and atmospheric footage are already on the hard drives, we set to work covering the last show from multiple angles. A Canon EOS 5D MkII is attached to the lighting rig with a monkey grip above the photographers’ pit with a 24mm while another 5D MkII is secured to the floor at the models’ feet covering the line-up and entrance to the catwalk. As the show is about to begin, Billy jostles for a ladder to press ‘record’ in the photographers’ pit (12 minutes’maximum record time on the 5D MkIIs) while Michael is on his hands and knees doing the same backstage. I have a ringside seat using the lightweight tripod and fluid head covering the show on a 24mm, 35mm and 50mm. It all works beautifully, the 24mm over the pit shows the sheer size and scale of the show with photographers in silhouette, while the backstage 14mm captures a multitude of magic, last-minute make-up, hair, darkness then light, models distorted with giant red shoes, clapping, whooping and dancing. Billy runs to my position and grabs all the stuff as I head backstage, handheld for one last key shot. I move with the crowd and push through to the security guard who, seeing my pass, waves me on, all in shot, all good. I find the journalists, camera crews and celebrities jostling to interview and meet the designer, and I go into orbit around this fascinating scene, occasionally stopping to capture a nuance, look, question, kiss and hug. Then it’s all over. The space is cleared; hair and make-up are already setting up for the next show.
As I sit and trawl through five hours of HD DSLR footage fromLondon FashionWeek in February, attempting a first edit, colour codingmy favourite shots and putting them into some kind of order, I findmyself pondering the crossovers between the still andmoving image. As a photographer I have become used to being in control of everything I shoot – the still image and all it involves, from digital capture, to editing, post-production and printing. Of course, there are times when the post is outsourced, depending on the type and complexity of the shoot. But for the most part my pictures are all mine. It’s both incredibly hard and at the same time easy. Having shot the pictures I then strive to develop a look, feel, atmosphere or sometimes an emotion, and it’s all at my fingertips under one roof without interruption or interference. The photographer’s life can be a lonely one at times and yet I love the solitude and silence while immersing myself in the calm waters of the digital darkroom; to relive the shoot, working my way through every frame and then finding that special something which distinguishes one snapshot in time from the next. Shooting stills is all about the captured moment and as such our energy and attention are focused on the minutia within that moment: the location, direction and type of light in combination with a subtle facial expression, a nuance, eye contact, the shape of the body or the simple movement of a hand. It’s instinctive and yet takes a huge amount of sensitivity and practice, not to mention the experience gained from many previous mistakes, before one can reach a point where this process even nears feeling comfortable.
It is precisely because of the huge amount of energy we expend on a single frame, along with the video capabilities of our hardware, that many of us are now turning to the moving image. If we put this much effort into one frame then surely we can work wonders when we have 25 per second to play with? Maybe, but it’s going to mean facing a word that strikes horror into some and signals a challenge in others: change. And just because our pictures move doesn’t mean they are going to move our audience. My latest shoot at London FashionWeek was reportage and not scripted; no storyboard, just a documentary, a moving record of what I saw. My first edit of selected shots is completed, and I am not sitting in the cosy, familiar comfort of my own home but teetering on the precipice about to fall into the unknown. Putting it another way, I’m taking a leap of faith and placing my work in the hands of another. The work of the editor is sometimes referred to as the invisible art, because when it is well-practised, the viewer can become so engaged that we aren’t even aware of their input. And as I rush from Oxford Circus tube, hard drive in hand, just a day after completing shooting at Somerset House, it is the editor whom I am meeting at Therapy Films in Soho. Since 2008 when I first shot HD DSLR, I’ve worked with several editors and each has brought something new to my work.While I like the thought of being able to edit at home, much in the same way as I do with stills, the comparison ends there. Editing is a profession and as such requires training, experience and, not least, talent. When I watch an experienced editor at work, it focuses my energy on the other aspects of the film-making process and to work with the editor as a team, a collaborative creative partnership. Tristram Edwards is the first to admit that his childhood was unconventional, having been surrounded by creativity throughout his early years. “I grew up in somewhat unusual circumstances, around colourful, creative, slightly eccentric people. My dad is a director and photographer and mother a stylist.” Having left school at 16 and with no formal training, his early career included stints at film production company Arden Sutherland-Dodd and Sue Moles Editing, Soho, specialising in TV commercials, where he learned his understanding of the post-production process. “My proper, traditional, ‘heat of battle’ training that I learned there is still something I refer back to, even now.” His recent client list is impressive, including Sony, Qantas and RBS, and his speciality is still with commercials for the likes of M&C Saatchi, along with putting up with photographers, experimenting with the moving image and cutting short films. His tools of choice are both Avid and Final Cut Pro, all packaged up in a 27in iMac and second monitor. I was introduced to Tristram via my agent Mark George who felt that our collaboration would be mutually beneficial and add something new and different to both our portfolios – or should I now say show reels? I immediately liked Tristram; his enthusiasm, energy, drive and obvious talent were apparent from day one.With his darting eyes and hands more akin to a touch typist than a film editor, I felt a surge of excitement at the possibilities our partnership could produce. After all, I could be at home this very minute fumbling on iMovie or FCP Express, faced with a mountain of footage and very little else.
Having made our selects, Tristram transcodes the H264 files for FCP to ProRes. (FCP does not like the native H264 codec.). It’s a necessary and for the most part time-consuming process, which will make sure the edit runs smoothly and, to my eyes at least, the converted ProRes files seem better. I feel sure this will all change in the near future but for now we must work with it. I decide that I will transcode the data myself next time, as this could potentially save a day in the editing suite. I laugh to myself; just three short years ago I wouldn’t have known the difference between FCP and an NCP, H264 could have been a boy band and codec a new form of Dalek.
My five hours of footage is now five minutes and organised into sequences, some of which even start to look like edits in themselves. Unlike my last shoot – a perfume commercial, scripted and storyboarded to a carefully selected piece of music – this project is a blank canvas and in some ways even more of an editorial challenge. Contemplating this, we sit in the peace and quiet of the offices at Therapy Films. Tristram is freelancing here and Barry Hughes, owner and MD, has kindly given us a working space for several days. Talking with Barry highlights the changes taking place within the film industry, not least due to the advent of HD DSLR, RED and newer ARRI derivatives, with their savings in equipment and crew, plus the capability to edit using FCP on a laptop from almost anywhere. Even though equipment can never replace talent and experience, existing production companies are having to change to remain competitive. The room is practically a Buddhist temple compared to where the film was shot backstage at London FashionWeek. I peek through the window and watch the world go by far below on Oxford Street, in stark contrast to my normal surroundings of our 17th-century cottage in Derbyshire. I like the buzz of Soho, and being able to walk out into the centre of a major city is stimulating and somehow appropriate when editing film. Apparently a Soho address still has kudos within the film industry, and I suppose that if a company is able to afford the rent, they must be good, very good! But for how much longer? As the property that we frequent is the intellectual kind and requires no fixed abode, we could just as easily be editing this project in a bedsit. The phone rings and it’s Charlotte Lurot, my collaborator, director of Bacchus Studio and London FashionWeek producer. This is our fourth project together and I trust Charlotte implicitly when it comes to fashion and film. It was Charlotte who gave us access to LFW and we had been discussing making a film short there for two years. I also trust Charlotte when it comes to that other most vital of film-making ingredients, music. Having sat through hours of footage, Tristram and I are feeling a bass beat thumping in time to models marching up and down a catwalk in a show that never seems to end, an infinite loop of colour, clothes, flashguns, legs, heels and attitude. This contrasts with peaceful cutaways to the relative calm of backstage hair, make-up, wardrobe and line-ups. As always Charlotte surprises: Piana & Murcof ’s Amor from Monteverdi’s Lamento Della Ninfa madrigal, Book 8.We listen, silence; we listen again, more silence; and again. Our expectations are crushed; it sounds slow and has nothing in common with our marching army of mannequins. I listen to it 30 times while Tristram starts to mould our rough-cut scenes around the framework of its delicate tempo. Each sequence is starting to form as a ballet of movement and as we work, the music grows on us until at the end of the second day we couldn’t imagine editing this film to anything else. I like it so much I listen to it all the way home; there is depth to this piece, it is complicated and yet beautiful, emotive, ethereal and above all atmospheric; all the things I strive for in my pictures. The choice of music for film is so incredibly important that it could form the basis of a feature in itself and when the subject matter is fashion the choice becomes even more relevant, as the music should be ‘on trend’ as ‘they’ say and yet fulfil the film maker’s vision. This brings me to one of the single most important and often neglected areas of the HD DSLR film-making process, ‘rights’, including model release and music.What is legal and what is not? My agent is far better qualified than I am to discuss this and maybe it’s a subject for future Dispatches. As these are international shows which are covered by hundreds of camera crews we should not need to seek further model release, but it’s always well worth taking advice and much of what is and is not possible relates to the final usage. Initially this will be a personal project and is not promoting an individual, company or product, so it’s okay to use the music, make the film and show it on my website. If, for example, it is selected for inclusion on SHOWstudio or even shown at a film festival, then we have to seek approvals from the author of the music. This need not necessarily mean a huge sum of money and indeed the artist may well even enjoy the collaboration, seeing it as being in sync with their work and drawing attention to it in the process. Depending on the budget, it’s often a great deal easier to have music written and agree the terms before production but that relies on knowing talented musicians in a multitude of genres – not exactly realistic and sticking to one may limit the creativity of the whole. Tristram’s approach to editing is different to others with whom I’ve worked in the past. “I believe in being unconventional (when I’m allowed) and that rules are there to be broken, provided that through proper training and hard graft you know exactly what and why they are there in the first place!” After four days I head home to Derbyshire; Tristram and I screenshare and continue to cut and re-cut. It’s like a painting that we just can’t seem to finish.Working with Tristram has taught me a great deal, and as we enter cut 38 we wait for the music rights approvals; having cut and re-cut from the original four minutes we are nearing a final 2min 30sec film short. There is still much to do, including a title, credits and last, but by no means least, the grading, colour timing or, as it’s sometimes known, telecine: making sure the look and feel are consistent – colour temperatures, saturation, highlight, shadow, contrast etc. It’s similar to photographic post-production, but dealing with 25 frames per second over 2min 30sec, and requires sophisticated hardware and software along with the associated skills.
This project takes me well into double figures with HD DSLR film making but in many ways has taught me the most. My energy and enthusiasm for the genre only increase with each new opportunity and with that comes the eagerness to learn. Every personal project should be a voyage of discovery and while the final result is, of course, hugely important to all involved, what I’ve learned in the process is equal to this and in some ways surpasses it.