WA eNews ~ DECEMBER 2017


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MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT - David Le May ACS wraps up 2017
BEHIND THE LENS with "Hounds of Love" DOP Michael McDermott
LEFT OF CENTER - Cool rigs made by local DOPs - REEF CAM by Rusty Geller
POSTCARDS with Mahmudul Raz in India with Don McAlpine ACS, ASC


Dear Fellow ACS WA Branch Members,

It is that time of the year again, as we rush head-on into the festive season, and as your new branch president I would like to take this opportunity to let you know about some of our recent achievements.

We have enjoyed evenings with our new Member Drop-in Sessions with Canon and Arri both dropping by WA to showcase some great new kit. These small events were well received - and although the Canon event was arranged by Viscom, our members were very well looked after. Thank you to the WA team that assisted with the Arri event, as it was a terrific night.

In October we saw an excellent result at the SA/WA state awards. I personally had to bring back a very full suitcase with 13 WA awards, including 4 golds and of course Simon's Life Membership Award for his outstanding service. That means the gold winners will be judged at national level soon, for the 2018 awards in Queensland.

On a personal note, I was asked to sit as a ‘newbie’ on the SA/WA awards judging panel, then a week later on the panel for VIC/TAS. I was honoured to then judge on this year’s ACS accreditation panel.

I was also pleased to be invited to participate in an extraordinary meeting in Sydney this month, to shape our society’s policy on harassment and bullying. Needless to say, the ACS has taken a major leap towards the implementation of a solid policy to help support and express our collective views on such behaviour. You will be hearing more about this important initiative in the coming week.

I would like to say a sincere thank you to our committee. We have a dedicated group of professional people on a team that I am delighted to be a part of.

Last but certainly not least, to you and your families, please stay safe this Christmas, have an enjoyable break, and I wish you a prosperous year of shooting in 2018.

Dave Le May ACS
WA Branch President
Australian Cinematographers Society


Merry Christmas!

To celebrate the Christmas & New Year break we are having a Christmas Drop In Session @ PICA BAR, Northbridge on Thursday 21st December from 630pm onwards.

No toys to play with this time unfortunately but if you're up for a casual chat and drink (if you're that way inclined) come on down. For the young crew it might be a great opportunity make some new connections and do some networking.

It would also be great to get a christmas photo with all the crew and we'll pop it up here on our Facebook page.

PICA closes at midnight so stay as long as you like!

(Outside area cafe seating) Perth Cultural Centre
51 James Street
Perth, WA, 6003

Open to all members, new members and of course partners and friends are more than welcome, I look forward to having a beer with you!

On behalf of the myself and the committee we hope you all have a relaxing Christmas break and a prosperous New Year!

Stay safe and drive smart!

BEHIND THE LENS with "Hounds of Love" DOP Michael McDermott

How did you get into cinematography? How long have you been working in the industry?

I did photography at school and was completely captivated by the whole thing. I also loved the escapism of movies. Then seeing OB cameramen at the speedway and WAFL matches, I put two and two together and saw my career. There wasn’t a massive industry here back then and after finishing Year 12 in 1982, I exhausted efforts to get a traineeship at the local TV stations without luck. I had to get a job so took a heavy duty diesel mechanic apprenticeship and was due to start that at a mine in Mt Newman. I couldn’t stomach the thought of going in that direction and couldn’t give up what I knew I really wanted to do.

Two weeks before having to leave, I walked into local production company Taimac Video Corporation, pleaded my case to the receptionist and was overheard by the owner, Ross McDonald. He came out and asked if I could give him a hand to move closed circuit TVs from Belmont to Ascot racecourse. Three days later he put me on probation as a steward’s patrol cameraman doing horse racing. There was my foot in the door and I could not have been happier. Ross had saved my life! A year later I was transferred to the Commercial Production department and stayed there another a year or so. The America’s Cup was coming to Perth and I was asked to join Channel Seven. I had two years there, in and out of helicopters, on and off boats and doing lots of single and multi camera production. By now I had a fair amount of operating experience. The Cup was lost and I moved to Vancouver for a couple of years where I worked freelance in broadcast and retail TVCs and was also exposed to more film production. I’d hang out at Panavision and Willie F Whites, a large lighting company learning the gear and techniques.

I moved back to Perth and wanted to increase my lighting knowledge so contacted Perry Sandow and started working freelance as his Best Boy. I will be eternally grateful to Perry for teaching me how to see light in quality and quantity. Four or five years later I rejoined Camera Dept. as a loader then 1st AC, learning from generous and talented cinematographers like Richard Malins and Kipling Baker.

Four or five years later I launched as a DoP. In 1998 I moved to Sydney shooting mostly TVC’s on film and finally moved back to Perth in 2008.

What’s in your camera bag?

I still love using light metres so carry a spot, an incident and a colour temp. I have this lovely little invercone on a flexible rod that plugs into my incident metre and is great for miniature and table top work. I also carry around a little string of battery powered LEDs that are great for foreground highlights or draped in the deep background. There’s a contrast viewer, a combination compass and inclinometre and a small stills kit.

Most used item you own?

Probably the most used item I own are the Cooke S4’s. Particularly the 40 and 75. I am absolutely besotted by them. I love everything about them, the roundness and honesty of their imagery, their contrast, the build quality and pedigree, their weight and design.

How do you embrace ever-changing technology?

The advancements in technology have been fantastic. All the things that I’d always wanted are here now. Digital cameras that are fast (sensitive) and fast (fps) and render close to film, remote lens control systems, wireless video, stabilized remote heads and lens mapping are a few examples. They’re things that we take for granted now. Those things have come so far and fairly quickly. I’ve waited my whole life for these things. And there’s more to come... it’s all pretty exciting really. At the end of the day, technology has made more things possible but it still comes down to composition and light.

What was your greatest happiest mistake?

I don’t think I’ve had any happy mistakes. All mine have been painful and miserable experiences. But I’ve always learnt from them, albeit the hard way!

Favourite piece of lighting kit?

It’s difficult to single out any one item that’s my favourite lighting piece. I love big soft sources too but I’ll often place a hard point source inside that to create some more localized heat. Lots of little lamps are fun as well and practicals can sometimes be all you need. It all depends on the story and what you’re trying to tell. The cinematography should always support the story and not be its own statement.

There is some beautiful slow motion cinematography in your recent feature Hounds of Love, working with Director Ben Young what was the process of coming to this decision, why did you choose this approach to the scene and how did you create such stunning results?

Thank you. We wanted to be able to open the film with something that was so compelling that we hoped would hook an audience from the get go. High speed was our answer. It was something that hadn’t been applied in that fashion before and when Ben had written the opening scene of girls playing netball we started thinking of how stylized and unique it could look by travelling the camera at speed past them at an unusually high frame rate. The same approach was applied to the street scene of house frontages by giving an unseen view of everyday life. We conjured the actions of the people to make the most of that, with kids jumping rope or playing under the sprinkler. Water always looks so interesting in high speed. I did the maths on shot duration for each scene and that versus the frame rate, gave me a speed that we’d need to travel the camera to achieve the pass. It all worked as planned and we’re thrilled with the result.

What was your favourite scene to shoot in Hounds of Love?

One of my favourite scenes is where John (Stephen Curry) starts on the lounge and Evelyn (Emma Booth) is by the sliding door to the kitchen. John joins her, both end up crouched on the floor and the camera leaves them, pans around the kitchen and ends up looking up the hallway to the bedroom where Vicki (Ashleigh Cummings) is being held. John and Evie then enter from the entrance hall to the right of frame and head into the bedroom. They close the door and the camera retreats. I love long lasting, moving shots that tell the story.

What do you look for in a project? What strikes you in a project?

I look at the idea and the people involved. It’s always the story that engages me and how I feel I can contribute to its telling with who’s involved. I look for projects that I feel present opportunities for good work by everyone.

Lastly you’ve come up through the ranks working in both the camera and lighting departments, how has that shaped who you are today? And can you give any advice for aspiring cinematographers?

My career path has been well considered and I’ve always looked at what I feel I’m lacking in, knowledge wise, and have tried to fill that hole. I was always in this for the long haul and love that I’m always learning. My advice to aspiring cinematographers is to make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and to play the long game. It’s important to value your worth if you want a sustainable career. Short sightedness or the desire for overnight success can have you in a skid pretty quickly. Be prepared to start at the bottom, be patient, polite and use your initiative. It’s a great start but a year at film school, even 3 years, doesn’t make you a cinematographer. There’s a lot to learn. I think it’s important, especially if you want a lifelong career, to set yourself up, experience wise, so you can build a sustainable future. There’s always highs and lows and it’s often how you handle the lows that will show you your strengths.

LEFT OF CENTER - Cool rigs made by local DOPs - REEF CAM by Rusty Geller

In October I was asked to document a joint scientific expedition from Curtin University and WA Museum to explore the distant coral reefs of the Kimberley, primarily shooting at the lowest tides of the year when reefs that are normally submerged are high and dry.

Besides shooting traditional doco style, I was asked to find a way to visually express the water level changes of the extreme 8 meter tides, so I set out to design a camera system that could be left on the reef on its own recording time-lapse images of the tidal changes.

With a small budget in mind, I bolted a $400 GoPro Hero4 Black inside a hollow brick which I bought at Bunnings for $3.60. The Hero4 Black has 4K video capability and 12 MP sensor. In time-lapse mode it records a series of high-quality 12 MP still photos that Premiere Pro easily stitches into a movie clip. I dubbed my backyard rig Reefcam.

I originally envisioned running the camera for the entire 12 hours of the reef tide-cycle, but it turned out that the low tides we encountered were at dawn and dusk, so we were always coming out of dark or going into dark, so the standard battery was all I needed. That also allowed me to use the GoPro monitor instead of the extended battery backpack so I could frame the shots.

I drilled holes through the bottom of the brick to mount the GoPro on the tripod mount, and thru the top to insert a stainless-steel eye-bolt to attach recovery lines and a marker buoy.

So off we went, out from the tip of the Dampier Peninsula on the good ship King Tide. 100 kms out to sea we were landed on Adele Island reef by skiff at low tide just before sunrise. We wore rock-fishing boots which are thick-soled wetsuit boots with steel spikes on the bottoms. In addition, I wore plastic-shelled padded knee guards so I could kneel on the coral to set the camera. Each landing we’d have about an hour and a half for the scientists to get their samples and me to get my shots. I had my doco camera in my backpack and the GoPro brick in a canvas bag. This became a twice-a-day routine for a week.

Once on the reef I’d scout an angle, envisioning how it would look as the water flooded in. I’d set the Reefcam in a crevice pointing across the reef toward the open sea, with the sun angle three-quarters behind the camera, with interesting foreground coral elements. I’d use coral rubble to wedge the brick solidly against the wave action, string out the recovery line behind so it would stay out of the shot when the sea flooded in, then start the camera and walk away to shoot doco footage of the scientists. An hour and a half later we would be evacuated from the reef as the water rushed in. We’d wait offshore on the skiff for 20 minutes, then motor over to where we’d left the Reefcam, which by now was several meters underwater marked only by its red buoy bobbing on the surface. I’d pull it up with a boathook and we’d head back to the mother ship to see what we got.

After studying the first take I concluded the most dramatic change in water level took place in 20 minutes, so I re-programmed the camera for 1 frame/2 seconds, which would compress that 20 minutes to about 20 seconds. This could be sped up in post-production as dropping frames is preferable to slowing the replay rate in the edit which would result in choppy motion.

I got 4 good tide-flooding takes on the trip. Critically, there is one inherent problem as you can see in the sequence above. Once the camera is underwater, refraction changes the focal length, the foreground coral heads disappears and the composition changes, zooming in 30%. Another thing I noticed: the time-lapse effect looks great as the water floods in, but once the camera is submerged, the shot gets boring. Next time I’ll stay on the reef as it floods, then free-dive down and switch the camera from time-lapse to 25fps to continue the shot—hopefully without bumping the camera—and show the sea life resuming on the reef. All-in-all it was a success, and we didn’t lose the camera…well at least not for more than overnight.

The footage will be used in an exhibit in the New Museum, currently being built in Northbridge

POSTCARDS: G'DAY I'M OUT OF WA! with Mahmudul Raz in India with Don McAlpine ACS, ASC

Hi All,

A quick postcard from Delhi, India where I am currently shadowing the legend Don McAlpine ACS, ASC on the Bollywood feature film Ramja Chawal.

I grew up watching a lots of Bollywood films so this has been an amazing opportunity for me. With the help of Don and Cathy Henkel at the WA Screen Academy, the production company Blue Waters Pictures have invited me to join the team of 150 crew members.

The crew here are very talented, super quick and highly adaptable. A new friend I have made on this set is the gaffer Ganesh Hegde. He has mastered Don’s way of thinking and can accurately anticipate where Don would put the key light and knows what light he might want too. Amongst many other lighting fixtures in his trucks Ganesh always keeps 1x M90, 1x 12K, 2x 6K, 3 x Skypanels, 3 x M18, and 6x 5K standby at all times. Don is shooting on 3 x Panasonic VariCam 35 with Codex recorder in 4K V-RAW. He is using full Cooke S5 lenses and 2 x Angenieux Zooms.

Don is the boss on set here! All the crew take Don as their mentor, too. He has one hundred precent authority and everyone treats him with high respect.

What I am learning from Don is priceless - learning on the job is definitely the best way. They way Don tells a story is very unique and I can already see that my way of thinking is changing. He will definitely have a great influence in my future cinematography work. It is such an honour to be on set with a legend such as Don and I consider myself very lucky.

See you all back home in Perth early in the New Year and have a great festive season!

Best regards

Newsletter edited and published by ACS WA Branch committee member Ben Berkhout


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