Posted on November 23, 2013
Last weekend I had the opportunity to be the cinematographer for a sweet little film called ‘Lotus‘. The film’s about foreigners looking for fulfilment in London. Weaving together the stories of six diverse Londoners the film attempts to show that our daily trials and tribulations ultimately bond us together. Having moved from New Zealand to London just over three years ago I could really relate to the story and jumped at the opportunity to get involved.
There was a lot to film in three days so we had to work fast . In order to get through the 15 page script we had two additional units filming cutaways and exterior shots. It was non-stop madness and I loved it!
We shot the film on the Canon C300 with a beautiful set of Canon L Series Lenses. We were shooting in over 15 different story locations inside and outside so mobility was key – the C300 proved to be the perfect camera for the job because of it’s low-light capabilities and its fast set up time.
The best part of making ‘Lotus‘ was the cast and crew, they were a really dedicated and hardworking bunch of people from all walks of life. It was amazing to see their passion and drive spill into every frame of the movie. It was an absolute pleasure working with them and I can’t wait to do so again.
Here are a few behind the scenes moments from the set of Lotus. Enjoy:
Photo Credit: Philip Grey
Posted on November 11, 2013
I’ve uploaded the full uncut interview that I did for digital photographer below:
What training did you go through to become a film/TV set photographer? Can you describe a bit about it. Do you need any particular qualifications?
My background is in filmmaking and I have a huge passion for images both moving and still. I started making short films aged 9; attempting to make new instalments of the Bond Franchise. Sadly they didn’t quite make the box office but I did catch the filmmaking bug. During this period I would have a camera constantly attached to my hip, wherever I was going I would capture images. Trying new angles, testing, exploring and just having a lot of fun experimenting. A few years went by and I continued making films, loving it more and more every year. When I was 14, I won my first filmmaking award and was over the moon. At that stage I was determined to make at least three short films a year and I knew then what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
At school I chose photography as one of my classes and I found it had lots of parallels to filmmaking. You’re telling a story through emotions and that’s what inspires me. You don’t need qualifications, you just need to be taking lots of photos – experimenting and telling stories through images.
How did you get into film/TV set photography? Tell me a bit about your background. What’s the best way for a person to get into this career?
I think the key is to have a passion for images and love taking photos.
When I went on holiday to Norway for a month I challenged myself to take and publish one photo a day that I was really proud of, I’d sometimes spend the whole day trying to find the right shot but it really forced me to think outside the box and make something special. I also have a blog that I update regularly with some my favourite photos that I’ve taken. It’s a great outlet and allows for instant feedback.
Take photos everyday and once you have a good portfolio, create a website or blog showcasing your photos and get yourself a business card (I’d recommend using Vista Print: www.vistaprint.com). Contact film schools, universities, production companies and ask if they have any projects that are needing a stills photographer. Say that you’re wanting experience and that you’re willing to work for free. Give your business card to anyone who’ll take it and contact every production company who’s number you can get hold of – meet up with them and give them a link to your website. Overtime you’ll get work and as your portfolio grows so will the level of work you do.
How important is it to have industry contacts and how would you advise someone go about getting these?
Contacts are really important, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to build and maintain these relationships like any friendship; work hard at proving you’re the best person for the job. I’ve found a fantastic way to make contacts is to work on passion projects such as short films and music videos. When starting out you’ll have to work for free but one short film could potentially lead to months of work – it’s a no brainer. Work really hard, be positive, go beyond what is expected from you and most of all don’t give-up; it will be tough at times.
What kit do you need for a film set shoot?
I like to keep it simple so I can move around quickly. Here’s my kit list:
Canon 60D Camera
17mm to 85mm Lens
Everyone’s kit list will be different and every job will require different kit. With research and experience you’ll find what equipment you like to use in different environments.
If you want to be a film / TV photographer you’ll need to own a blimp. This is basically a big plastic box filled with foam that you put your camera into. It reduces the (‘click, click’) noise of a DSLR camera shutter. This means photos (with the actors permission) can be taken during the filming of scenes without the worry about making any noise that could potentially ruin a shot.
A camera blimp costs around £1000 which is a lot of money for a big black box, but it’s an essential piece of kit for any professional film and TV photographer.
I couldn’t afford to spend that much money on buying a blimp so I decided to build my own; it cost around £200 and it works brilliantly.
There’s loads of great online tutorials on how to make a blimp and I’ll be posting a blog on how I made mine very soon; keep an eye out: www.sebastiansolberg.com/blog
Can you describe what kind of things you do when on a film set shoot?
As an on-set photographer the key is to be there at the right moment without being seen or heard. The film doesn’t need you to get made, however when marketing and selling the movie an onset photographers stills are essential. You’ll be taking images that will be the face of the film – the images will be seen on posters, magazine and all over the internet. Remember how important these images are and remember to tread lightly with confidence and build relationships with the cast and crew so they trust you.
What kinds of things are you hoping to capture when taking behind the scenes shots?
The important moments to capture are key scenes that tell the story and moments when the cast and crew interact. For example an actor and director discussing ideas, the different departments setting up for a shot and anything interesting that shows the film being brought to life.
It’s also important to remember the on set photos will be used in a wide range of different mediums that have different requirements. Find out what these requirements are and set yourself tasks of capturing the required moments that make audiences want to go and see the movie.
It’s also really important to know the directors vision, you might take a great shot but if it doesn’t look like it’s from the movie, it won’t be used. Your images are there to help sell the film so always remember to stick to the directors vision and the cinematographers ‘look’.
What’s the most exciting point of your career so far?
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with Roger Pratt (BSC) on his last two projects. He’s worked as director of photography on two Harry Potter films, 12 Monkeys, Troy, Chocolat, The Fisher King and Brazil to name a few. His feature films have won both Oscars, BAFTAs and he’s worked with some of the most influential directors of our time including Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam. It was amazing watching him bring a scene to life with light and I’ve learnt a huge amount from working with him.
Roger Pratt is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and he’s so humble. It was a pleasure to see him at work and doing what he loves. I hope one day to work with him again.
What are the rewards and disadvantages to the job? What challenges do you face as a film set photographer?
It’s amazing being able to work with talented people who love what they’re doing; I’m always learning something new. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to see into new windows of life and capture these moments with a single image.
However it can be difficult at times when the production is running late and there isn’t time to get a great publicity shot. This can be frustrating but you’ve got to take a breath and be persistent without getting in the way. This is why a blimp is extremely helpful as you can take photos while the scene is playing out and not have to slow the production down.
Can you give me your top 5 tips for someone hoping to get into this career?
1) Take photos everyday.
2) Become proficient in using photoshop – taking a photo is only half the job.
3) Create a website with your photo portfolio.
4) Work on music videos and short films for free to gain experience and to expand your portfolio.
5) Be patient, positive and persistent.
How much freedom are you given when shooting on set? Are there restrictions to where you can go or what times you shoot?
It really depends on the film and your first assistant director who is in charge of the set. It is really important to have a good relationship with the first assistant director (first AD) and not to get in his way. His job is to make sure the schedule runs on time and the director gets the shots he wants. If you aren’t respectful to the pressures of the set and you’re only focused on getting what you need, problems will occur. Filmmaking is a team effort and you’ve got to respect everyone’s role on a film while being patient, polite and determined to get the shots that are needed.
It’s really important not to get in the crews way. During rehearsals look where the camera’s going to be and if you’re worried about getting in shot check with the first AD. Another thing to remember is not getting in an actors eye-line when filming – don’t let them see you. This can be really distracting for an actor especially if you’re moving and taking photos of them. This is a basic courtesy that everyone on set should follow.
What is it like to shoot with actors while they are working?
In any situations where you are taking photos of someone it’s important to build a relationship with the subject, it’s the same when working with actors. Introduce yourself, tell them what you’re about and build a relationship of trust. Be polite, enthusiastic and explain what you’re doing – this will produce a better end result.
Do you have anything else do add?
Thanks very much for listening; you can find out more about me on my website: www.sebastiansolberg.com – I post filmmaking and travel related blogs regularly so feel free to subscribe. You can also find me on Twitter or Instagram: @SebSolberg
Good luck to everyone with their photography endeavours and please send me some of your work via the contact page on my website. Speak soon!
Posted on November 4, 2013
Modern Man is now on Vimeo!
I’m Sebastian Solberg, director, producer and editor of Modern Man. I’ve been making movies since I was nine years old; although “movies” might be a debatable term for, “reinacting my favourite James Bond and Austin Powers scenes with friends in the back garden”. I became obsessed with filmmaking. Much to the despair of some of my schoolteachers, it took precedence over anything and everything else; but I was lucky enough to grow up with a lot of support for what I was doing.
I’ve always loved making short films; for me, they’ve been a chance to make mistakes and learn the craft without putting huge amounts of other people’s money at risk. They’re a great film school. The other huge benefit is that for a short film, it’s possible to produce a very high quality result on a very small budget. On Modern Man, we asked for volunteers who would be willing to take a day out to shoot with us – just one day means we were able to get a high standard cast and crew on board.
The process of finding a concept I was happy with took a lot of thought. I spoke to close friends and family about Charlie Chaplain-type silent films; having parallel-running time periods; windows into other worlds… nothing clicked. I was looking for simplicity. My last filmmaking experience had been so frustrating, full of difficult and wrong decisions that made it disheartening; this time, I wanted to make this film fun, quirky and a little bit ridiculous. My first thought: how can I make a fun, crazy film in a kitchen? Add time travel!
I find that when the right idea comes to me, everything starts falling into place. An image of a cavewoman facing-off to a very posh, clean person came to mind and instantly made me laugh aloud – I had to do it! I wanted an amazing writer to breathe life into the concept so emailed Simon Guerrier pitching the idea, and asked if he’d write it. We met the next day, and after two hours, we had a clear structure that I absolutely loved – and it hasn’t actually changed since that first meeting. Over the next few weeks the script went through five revisions with input from lots of different people. It was very exciting to see Simon work his magic on the script.
In Modern Man the first person to be cast was the cavewoman played Ramanique Ahluwalia. I’d worked with Romy before, and as soon as the initial idea came to mind I knew she would be perfect for the role. I was so glad I’d manage to work with her before her move to New York!
Next was our Rupert. Unfortunately, a week before filming, job clashes meant our actor for “Rupert” wasn’t able to do the film. It was a blow for the whole production team, who had to put lots on hold to go into overdrive to find the right Rupert. I saw so many headshots that day! Jassa and Simon were throwing suggestions that didn’t quite fit. Three days before the shoot, Jassa suggested Sean Knopp. As soon as I saw his showreel, I knew he was perfect for the part and we sent him the script within minutes. He loved it, and said yes!
While the production team was working hard on finding the faces of the film, we were also putting together a crew which was unbelievably high-calibre.
Our first find was a great costume designer who blew my mind with her great work on the cavewoman costume with such a tiny budget. Without her and our make-up designer, the movie would never have achieved such visual authenticity. It goes to show how important these departments are, and on small productions they are the key to lifting the film to a higher level.
Our art department was a funny team, one being a meticulous planner and the other a last-minute wonder. The really key prop in Modern Man was the remote and it had to be perfect. Our production designer created a version which was originally drastically different to what ended up in the film – the beautiful yet half-finished work of art had to be replaced at 5pm the night before the shoot! It was a moment of sickening nerves as the very real possibility of not having the key prop presented itself. Despite my worries, as you can see from the film, the new remote was born of genius last-minute design.
On all my films, I’ve always worked by the same motto: unless I can find someone miles better than me I’ll do the jobs myself. So I’ve shot most of my movies myself, simply because I couldn’t find anyone I trusted enough to deliver such a huge part of the film. For Modern Man, I had toyed with the idea of asking someone insanely good like, oh, I don’t know, someone who’s worked on BBC’s Merlin and Doctor Who, but thought there’d be no way someone that in-demand would be free. It was amazing luck that, as I trawled through my daily facebook check, I noticed that Dale McCready – someone who actually does fit those credits – was on holiday! Another email flew out into cyberspace, and within a day I was on the phone to him discussing the visual effects and how we were going to shoot the movie. I don’t think Dale actually ever said the word “yes”, but after that conversation I had to pinch myself because our film suddenly had a world-class cinematographer on board.
…And with world-class talent comes world-class equipment. When the email came through asking me whether I would rather shoot on a Red Epic or Arri Alexa (cameras which have credits like The Hobbit, Marvel’s The Avengers and James Bond: Skyfall), that’s when the production got big. And budget blew up. Luckily we were able to get some brilliant deals with the companies we hired equipment from – Take 2 and Kitroom Monkey - and even managed to hire a beautiful set of anamorphic (wide screen) lenses to go with the Arri Alexa for the day, which gave everything a very cinematic look.
As if continuing on the Skyfall theme, we found a really fun, brilliant stunt co-ordinator Dani Biernat, who just happened to have won an award for her work on the James Bond film. It’s important on any film to keep the actors safe, and after due consideration, it became clear that we just weren’t happy with what we would be asking the actors to do – at least not without professional advice. Dani was instrumental in keeping the big kitchen fight safe and interesting, and also in keeping everyone highly entertained with stories of times she had to fall down stairs, or roll cars, or slide motorbikes under vehicles!
The night before the shoot I was so nervous, waking up really early and struggling to sleep because of excitement. It’s a story I think many directors know. That morning I played the film a few times in my head so I knew exactly which shots I wanted and how the film was going to play out. It was such a proud and rewarding day to finally see everything coming together and all those highly talented people bringing Modern Man to life. I had to pinch myself throughout the day because this is what I’ve been dreaming about since I was nine and it was finally happening, and I couldn’t believe it.
Despite shooting 42 slates in one day (!), the shoot ran like clockwork – tribute to our first Assistant Director. The actors nailed their performances and kept it really light hearted and fun. The crew were very on the ball with getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible so we could wrap without overrunning too much. What was amazing was that when Dale came on board, the costume, set and everything was already at his very professional level. Credit to the team – everything was at a world class standard.
The end of the shoot segued into the second part and arguably most nerve-wracking part of the project: post-production. I’ll be honest: the first day was a nightmare. We were shooting at 2k high res which meant that the whole post production workflow was something beyond what Jassa or myself had ever worked with before. We spent a lot of time researching and talking with other editors about the best way to work with the footage. I worked with Premier Pro, which was great but unfamiliar territory on things like trying to get aspect ratios (whether the image is square or rectangle) from the Arri Alexa footage imported properly. It was a slow start, but after that it was so exciting to finally assemble the movie!
Fine tuning the edit is always the hardest and most time consuming part, and I always find it important to get input from as many people as possible. With such a VFX-heavy film, the two weeks we had before picture lock were probably the most sleepless nights for everyone involved. The rough cut was full of pre-viz scenes and without sound, which made it very difficult for anyone I showed it to imagine the whole picture. I sent it to some of the crew members for feedback anyway, but the overwhelming comment was “there’s a lot left to do”. This was one week before the film was due, and we still had pick-up shots to film. Ahhh!
The last two days before the deadline was mental! We were creating the soundscape of the movie with sound design, bringing colour to the short with the grade and applying the finishing touches to the Ice Age with the VFX’s. Our post-production team worked throughout the night to finish everything in time, and thanks to them we managed to hand in the completed film three hours before the deadline! Phew – it was tight.
We’re now going to be entering the film into festivals and competitions. If you have any suggestions please post them in the comment bar below.
The music for Modern Man was made by my long time collaborator Lyndon Holland. Here’s a snippet from the credits:
I had so much fun making Modern Man, I didn’t want it to end! Once we did finish the film we decide to make a credit sequence that shows what happened after the movie finishes. With the artistic skills of Jed Uy the drawings were brought to life; they progressed through several major historical art styles, from cave drawings all the way up to a contemporary 20th century art. I loved it as it bridged the gap between the Cave Woman and the Modern Man. However, in the end we decided to just go with the cave drawings as it worked best for the credits and the story. Here are the sketches that didn’t make it into the film:
Music by: Lyndon Holland
Drawings by: Jed Uy