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LFW A/W2011

Although I’ve shot shows many times in the past I must try to see this as if it were the first time

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 1×1  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.