Life, Science, God & Darwkins Doco

NYC, Philly, Joplin, Kansas City, San Fran, Vegas and now LA.  It’s been a busy 10 days to say the least as I have started filming 3x 1 hour documentaries with the Evoloutionist and famous Atheist Richard Dawkins.

Richard Darwkins in NYC

I like to do one big landmark doco every year so when long term collabroator Producer/ Director Molly Milton asked me to DOP the series, how could I refuse?  Especially, when the subjects are… wait for it…  SEX, DEATH and THE MEANING OF LIFE, with the theme of a life without God, I was like ‘What is this..? This will be nuts, it’s essentially the core of our existence, I need to do this project’.

For this part of the shoot, the crew consisted of Russell Barnes – Producer/ Director, Vicky Booth – AP, Ryan Patton – Sound Recordist (aka MD of Audio 23), myself and of course Richard.

We found ourselves in some strange situations, from an Orgasm cult in San Fran, to witnessing the devastation of Joplin, Missouri. At times, it was sad, others fun and often just plain strange… but that’s what life can be and listening to Dawkins and the contributors views has been an eye opener… That’s not to say I agree with him on every point, but I can see how and why science plays a very important role in humanity and sometimes it’s easy to find meaning in everything or be ‘deluded’…  I like the science argument, but being an old romantic I still like the idea of fate and believe in belief; whatever that belief may be is completely up to the individual and that should be respected.  Dawkins gets a lot of bad press (especially recently), but he’s actually surprisingly cool…  I’m not here to defend him, just film him.  So I will tell you about the experience.

Harvey Glen Filming in Joplin

With the amount of locations and minimal crew the shoot has been a little hetic and quite a tough few days!  Our days have included pack kit, drive, film, drive, film, film, film, lunch, film, drive, film, pack kit, fly, dinner, sleep!

The production company Clear Story (owned by Molly and Russell Barnes) where keen to shoot on XD Cam.  So we choose the Sony PDW 800 that shoots MPEG HD422, 50 Mbps 1920×1080 25P (as for UK PAL region).  It was my first time using this specific camera and I have to say it’s decent.  Over the past couple of years I have mainly been filming on RED, 35mm or HDSLR and it’s rare that I use a traditional camcorder so to speak.  The shape and weight reminds me of my days filming for Nat Geo and Discovery.

To funk up the imagery  I decided to use prime lenses.  Tradittionally, I would have gone for a PS Technic Pro 35mm Adaptor and set of primes either Cooke or Zeiss. This time however I bypassed the adaptor and went for a set of Zeiss Digi Primes.  The depth of field isn’t as shallow, but the lenses are beautiful and make such a great difference to the image.  To take the edge off the sharpness I used an 1/8 Black Promist on many shots especially when Richard was in frame.  It helps blow the highlights a little and give a slightly softer & more forgiving image, which helps as many of the contributors have been a little older…  One was 108 – yep 108 and he still works in financial industry in NYC…  Good genes!

Only the cross standing!

Only the cross standing!

It has to be said that using primes on a doco is not the most practical option, but I decided to do it after shooting Virtual Revolution with Molly last year (Digital Emmy, Bafta).  On that series we used primes and it increased the production value so much.  VR was a little more set up and formatted, so there was time to change lens. On this project quite a lot of the encounters like with Father Justin in Joplin were on the fly, so hand held was the obvious choice. I probably shot 90% hand held so far, physically moving to change the frame size from 2 shot to single. I think you get better images this way instead of just sitting on the zoom, but your director has to be aware that you can not just quickly pick up a close up of something three meters away when you are on a 12mm.

There’s always pro and cons and with primes – you just don’t get the quantity of shots in the same time period as you would with a zoom, but I am a big fan of quality over quantity – as long as you have enough coverage, that’s the main thing.

We left Richard in Vegas battling with some people about life, science and how he views the world and I took the beautiful drive to LA and now chilling with an old mate, an extremely talented old mate Timmy Qualtrough.  We have known each other since I used to rip down snowy mountains with a VX2000 and ultrawide fish-eye  for MTV back in 1999.  Just seeing him and checking out his work is so inspiring.  Tim has Directed videos for Muse, Oasis (which I shot a little on) and recently Pendulum.  Here’s a music video Tim directed and I shot way back circa 2004.  Try and guess what it was shot on! The first person to guess correct will win all 4x my How To Become a Cameraman books, including Filming on Location, How To Beat The Competition and Lighting for Film & TV.  They are all full of Top Tips and invaluable info.

The camera & sound department chilling 576 338]

Here’s some of his recent work.  Pendulum – Propane Nightmares.  Shot by Denzil Armour-Brown 576 338]