Filming with Dawkins, Ricky Gervais, the Ganges + Location Filming Tips

Another busy day on the streets

Another busy day on the streets

I have been escaping the Dubai Sumer heat and spending the past few weeks in the USA, UK and India.  It’s been fun continuing the 3x 1 hour documentaries with Darwinist Richard Dawkins on SEX/ MORALITY, DEATH and THE MEANING OF LIFE!  What subjects! It’s certainly been an eye opener learning about life with the differing religious points of view from Christians and Catholics to Hindus and Buddhists, oh yeah and of course a good amount of Atheism from Richard thrown in, the chat about life with and without a Supreme Being/ God has been interesting to say the least…

Richard Dawkins a Bull & Harvey Glen

Darwinist making friends

In India we filmed in a place called Varanasi which is the only place where the river Ganges faces east.  Due to this, Hindus come down at sunrise to bathe in the river as a form of worship.  It is also considered that if you die in Varanasi you wil go straight to enlightenment.  So many old or ill people use it as a waiting ground.  After they die they get wrapped in fabrics and ceremoniously carried down to a bonfire where they will be burned.
Filming this was pretty nasty, one of the guys who was stoking the fire actually stuck a sharp stick in the body and lifted it up to stoke it…  This is kind of ok when you are looking through a black and white viewfinder, (I was filming on a Sony 800 XDCam), but when you put the camera down and see it with your own eyes in full colour it’s no longer about framing up the shot, keeping it sharp and looking for the next shot in the sequence – it’s actually real!
The Ghats are not for the faint hearted

The Ghats are not for the faint hearted

That is the crazy thing about having a camera in your hand – it does make you feel indestructable…  I often think life through a
lens is a very safe place, as it’s almost unreal.
Jumping into the Ganges

Getting some Ganges Time!

When I have the Sound Recordist and best mate Ryan Patton behind me I’ll walk backwards hand held down any road, even ones with Bulls in them, as I know I will be safe.  He is like a second pair of eyes, we have this amazing yet simple system where he taps me to let me know if something is behind me and exactly where it is.  If there’s a step he will do a special sign where he runs his hand down my back – sound odd writing it… but it works a treat! Never bumped into anything (much) yet!
I have so much trust in him I will and have literally put my life in his hands.  When you are a Cameraman, especially shooting unpredictable documentaries, you need to have 100% trust in your Sound Recordist, not only to record sound, but to look out for you and keep you safe.  I like to say Health and Safety = Safe and Healthy.     You don’t need to be blase or take stupid risks, as no shot is worth that you just need to know he/ she has your back and you have theirs.

On a safer front, but still a little risky, Richard met up with fellow Atheist Ricky Gervais, yep the comedian famed for The Office and hero from the Golden Globes! I cannot believe how he got away with hosting the awards with that speech – it was a little shocking, but defo wet your pants funny!

Looking for God

Looking for God!

Whenever you film with a ‘star’ the Producers and often Directors get nervous, not because they are intimidated by them so much, but because of how the manager has painted their client.  I have heard  so many times that the ‘star’ is only going to stay 5-10 minuets,  you can’t do this or that, they will want to change the lighting or possibly the set up… However way more often than not they turn out to be Kool (with a K) and stay well beyond their time slot and I can count Ricky G in that category too!   He was a pleasure to film with, fair enough he had a few dodgy jokes before the cameras rolled, but maybe Richard Dawkins made him a little nervous…

As well as filming for the documentary, I have managed to fit in a few extra days on other productions.  Including a graphics/ title shoot for Jamie Oliver’s new 1 hour programme Jamie Cooks Summer, Produced and Directed by my very good friend Chris Faith. I also filmed a festival called the Big Chill with X Factor contestant and I’m a Celebrity Get me Out of Here winner Stacy Soloman and a days filming on the hit show Made in Chelsea which is a similar format to the Hills or The Only way is Essex.

I have noticed some similarities within the UK television industry since I left the shores in 2008 and some changes too.

The Big Chill was for an ITV This Morning feature about fashion and festivals.  I was so surprised when the Director and top lad Sam informed me of the required camera format – Digi Beta!  What Digi Beta?  Are you serious!  I used to love Digi Beta, it used to be the dream format.   If you were shooting on Digi you knew you were doing something right.

The old Beauty Digi Beta aka Betsy

But even to a nostalgic DP in 2011 it does seem a little dated but not one to complain I hired a 970, sadly not my favourite 790 as that camera seems to be no longer in existence and headed off to watch Kanye West play.  Easy Taught me!

The Digi is what an old school Cameraman would call a real camera, it’s made for filming.  True it is heavy, but in all the right places, it’s so well balanced that it is a dream to use.  I was back to pulling off 180’s and my signature 360 spin (that MTV used to lap up) in no time.

Now for the change, Sony F3.  On both Jamie Oliver’s shoot and Made in Chelsea it was the camera of choice, well actually it seems to be the camera of choice for most of the UK.

So what’s my verdict:

First and foremost it gives beautiful images, that cannot be denied and it has a PL mount which means it can take 35mm film lenses, something I always dreamed about as a nipper.  They are the pros, and sadly there are pay offs.  Like a lot of cameras in the current market it is a little bit of a pig to work with.   With cards directly inserted in the camera it only records 30mbps, so to get higher res 5ombps you need to use a Nano Flash or ‘Nano Gash‘ as they seem to be referred to.  It’s a bit of a pain as you have to record on the Nano Flash separately, plus the viewfinder isn’t great for focus and to get the Nano Flash on the camera + additional battery you have to add more bars, which means actually getting your eye to the viewfinder is quite tricky.  So on both programmes I used an additional Cineroid viewfinder which is another iteam of kit to add onto the camera, which makes it more bulky and cumbersome and just not balanced and to be honest isn’t that good either.

The New School Sony F3

The New School Sony F3

I love how technology is changing and I believe we are right in the middle of it, with all these new amazing digital cameras and advancements in post being released.

I just read this on Stalk Book ‘He who wants the world to remain as it is, doesn’t want to remain at all’.

You can not keep the world from changing, and regardless of what camera format you are filming on filming on Location remains the same so here’s 7 Top Tips to help you:

1) Before leaving for location check your kit as it will be used, don’t skip any stage of this as the one thing you don’t check will more often than not work.  Take spares

2) Make a detailed list of the amount of kit you have including number of boxes and bags

3) If you think you might need it take it.  Even if you doubt you will use it, still take it and I guarntee more often than not you will be thankful you took it

4) Take an multi plug adaptor and 4way power extension.  This way you will always be able to charge your batteries, phone, laptop without having to sacrifice other appliences in your hotel room i.e. the TV

5) Always take the business card of the hotel your staying at with the address on it and put safely in your wallet

6) If abroad learn some very basic words, ‘hello, thank you, yes please, excuse me’

7) Be aware of your location and potential hazards

It is a really exciting time at the moment, so enjoy whatever it is you are filming and if you want over 50 more Top Location Filming Tips then you know where to get them plus find out the key to becoming a highly successful  and in-demand Cameraman/ DOP