Thursday, August 16, 2007

Traveling light with my movie camera- Gonzo Film Making

Cameras throughout the years
A response to Cliff Etzel at bluprojekt which I think warrants its own thread entitled, Gonzo TV and travelling light with my movie camera.

Of course if you're film making you've got your kit of parts n' all with you, but on occasions it may just be you and your lonesome camera. So, what is a man and woman supposed to do? Here's an abridged.

. . .with my movie camera

Having worked alongside some VJ folk in Berlin who were v. professional I noted they were carrying quite a chunk on their backs.

I also discovered from a fraternity of VJs from four corners of the globe, there are different dialects and approaches to Vjism. Vjism is not a one size fits all.

In the UK, when we started off, (a few years back here's a timeline), we packed, but soon many of us ditched everything for just the camera. I do the same for Journalists I advise on training courses.

  • "What you really don't need, leave behind".
  • "You sure about those shoes, you may have to run to pick up sequences ?"
  • "Yep keep a clean shirt on for those pieces to camera".
  • "I'd probably change into some trousers (pants), what if you need to get on the shot to get that shot"

On more advance courses I open them up to filters, steadycams etc, mike arrangements - all solid TV stuff, but It's really horses for courses and what makes you the VJ comfortable.

In using the term "Gonzo", I do so metaphorically, to give people an idea of Vj's personality. But the truth is I have always been light and "aggressive" with the camera. I also shoot "dirty" as a signature. One of the most outstanding directors around to shoot "dirty" is The Bourne's Paul Greengrass.

"Dirty" means there is often no clean line of sight between you and your subject. The camera becomes another person looking to engage, so you often see "warts n all". It also begs a radical form of editing. I hope the auters don't mind but this is Gonzo.

Gonzo should not be misconstrued with shoddy, just as no one would have called Hunter S Thompson's work second rate. And no that doesn't mean I'm comparing myself to the King of Gonzo.

It's the expressional form of shooting and editing, the language that mixes narratives, dialect, and form - doing away with civility. Is Videojournalism the "Rolling Stone" of TV? That's debatable. But Rolling Stone Magazine's eminence in the 60s was its redefinition of journalism.

Video journalism goes some way to doing the same. It's a state of mind as much as a fresh functional form.

A lot of the times I also don't want to be seen filming. There are laws governing "secret filming", particularly for broadcasters. But I'm not secret filming, I just don't want a sign up saying camera/director shooting.


I mean to be inconspicuous enough so there's no acting on anyone's part.

I can't tell you the amount of times I've shot footage of the police or been out with them and going light has helped tremendously.

On network TV stories in the past with time and a nice budget, yep I've had the whole shabang. Successor Generations for network Channel 4 News made from South Africa is one example. I even had the DVW900 camera. (see previous post "Small cameras=cheap TV, Yes? No?")

On some shoots on viewmagazine it's been tripoded ( carbon fibre tripod v. light) and miked e.g. Sony Dual Channel Radio mic

For example Dream Girls, which I got two of my former students to do and we had oodles of time.

But stories e.g features, news current affairs "waiteth for no one" - that's my motto.

In docs and current affairs, I prefer to move quite fast around the story, eschew set/up reconstructions and am constantly thinking: "have I got the story". 8 Days is probably the most visible and high profile of this - all handheld sans filters etc.

This doesn't mean if you're packing lights, mikes, filters etc this isn't apt, so long as you can work it pretty fast- great!

Again, it's about choice. I'm no Spielberg, oh no, but on "Saving Private Ryan", they stripped the camera of all luxuries to achieve that "frenetic" look landing on the beach.

When it comes to shooting light I'm not alone, quite a few VJs/ producer /directors I know e.g Claudio Von Planta shoot "neat". A lot of my work is about post - where it's necessary, so untreated video is a boon.

There's a scene in the Ferrari film where a man drops by in his car just to say hello, and I immediately engage him. Though he saw I was filming, I didn't want it make a song and dance about it, so I continued to film without looking at the monitor.

Like I said VJ is a state of mind.

David Dunkley Gyimah is completing his PhD which includes future journalism in video. Go to for films


bluprojekt said...

You do raise some interesting points that have me rethinking what it takes to truly bring back the essence of a story. Although I do have a customized kit for shooting and lighting, my foundational kit is about a camera, mattebox and Rode VideoMic. Everything else is extra.

The b-roll types over on Michael Rosenblum's blog would have you believe that a van packed with hundreds of pounds of gear makes you more professional. If one has to brag about ones kit, one has other more serious issues to contend with personally.

Thanks mate for raising this point.

Cliff Etzel

David said...

You know Cliff, the award winning photograher you are, the shot/s that won you that award had to do with your third eye.

How uniquely you see/saw the world from someone who does not that compositional eye is talent.

If you're a soccer player. Nike boots as opposed to Addidas might make you a better player, but it was those feet that got you into the game.

The kit you mentioned are essential, and I'd advised my students and many to acquire, particularly on considered shoots.

When I was out to see on a diving expedition I packed all of that, including condoms (LOL) to wrap around my microphone on a 20 metre cable which I lowered it into the water to catch the divers coming up.

I have a few friends here who still shoot with old model leicas.

And my Nizo and scheider lens with 3 mins of super 8 rolls often gets wheeled out - all really for the aesthetic.

And that's the strange thing I have noticed, that at some point we all go back to basics just to see how things work.

Don't mean its right, it's more about the risk and whether we can pull it off. Cuz if we can, the barriers of entry just got even lower.

And that can't be a bad thing :)