At the tail end of last year I shot a personal project with my friend Lorna. Lorna is an illustrator and avid skateboarder. I’ve been a big fan of Lorna’s work for a long time and have had the idea of making a short film about her for a while. Lorna mentioned to me that she was volunteering for Skatepal, a charity which help and support young people in Palestine through skateboarding, and would be heading out to the West Bank for six weeks. Alongside the teaching of skateboarding, she was also planning on producing a series of paintings of different sights and buildings which she saw whilst she was there. This seemed like the perfect story to build my film around. I suggested the idea to Lorna and she seemed very keen!
I wanted to not just focus on Lorna’s painting process but also on her other love of Skateboarding (especially as both were now very relevant to the story I wanted to tell).
I divided the shoot up into three separate parts: the painting, the skateboarding and the interview. This was also the order that I decided to shoot in. Usually I would film the interview first as that would guide what sort of coverage I would need for the b-roll. However this time, I felt that I would learn more from seeing her work and thought this would then give me a clearer idea of the points I wanted to touch on in the interview process. I didn’t want to rush any of the parts so it made sense to me to spread them across individual days.
One of the reasons that I hadn’t started this project sooner was that I was waiting on some new equipment to arrive which I knew would really improve this film. The first of those being my Canon EOS 1DX MkII. I’d been excited by this camera as soon as it was announced and it was the first camera body I ever took a punt on and pre-ordered! I thought that the 4K (in both 25fps and 50fps) would be incredibly useful for this shoot as well as the ability to shoot 100fps slow-mo in 1080p, especially for the skateboarding parts. The continuous dual-pixel auto focus was also a very powerful feature which would come in very handy.
The second thing I was waiting for was the Rhino Arc, the panning head to go with my Rhino EVO slider I already had. This would give me lovely smooth camera moves for both live action and time lapse shooting. Luckily, these two items arrived within about a week of each and meant I was ready to go!
Filming the Painting:
Fortunately for me, Lorna is a fast worker and usually completes one of her paintings in a single day. We found a day when we were both free and I headed down to her studio and spent the day watching her work. I went into full reportage mode for this and just let Lorna work and picked up shots as she went. At the same time as shooting the video b-roll I also set up some time lapses as I thought this would help capture the process much better. I shot four time lapses in total from various angles (two on the Rhino slider and two just on tripod). This did make it tricky trying to stay out of my time lapse shots but also get interesting angles for my b-roll.
All the time lapses were shot in full resolution, RAW files to give me the most latitude in post and the ability to crop and add “camera moves” in post. The b-roll was all shot in 4K @ 25fps which again would give me the nicest possible image and also the ability to crop and get really tight detail shots whist working on a 1080p time line.
Filming the Skateboarding:
A couple of weeks later Lorna and I (and Lorna’s husband Steve) met up at Victoria Park skate park to film the skating portion of the film. This had been a tricky one to arrange because not only did we, as busy freelancers, have to find a day where we were both free but we also had the unpredictable British weather to contend with! After one aborted attempt due to fog we finally managed to get everything to click into place. We really couldn’t have asked for a better day either! Beautiful blue sky, low late-autumn light and amazing colours in the background. Being a slightly chilly weekday morning meant that the park was very quiet and gave as full reign of the bowl.
Not being a skateboarder myself I wasn’t entirely sure what was and wasn’t reasonable for me to ask of Lorna so I just watched while she warmed up and got an idea of how her different lines went and what would make for interesting shots.
I quickly compiled a shot list (and a “risk assesment”: Me: “If I put the camera here, will that be ok?” Lorna: “Yeah, should be fine; let’s find out!”) and we got to work. Most of the time we managed to work around it each other really well. One slight miscommunication did lead to our only collision however (I promise I was way more concerned for Lorna’s well being than I sound in this clip!)…
A lot of the shots were shot on tripod or hand held but I also planned out a few slider shots which I think worked really nicely. Everything was shot on the 1DX MkII at either 100fps or 4K @ 50fps so I could get some beautiful slow-mo shots which really show of Lorna’s skills well. Here are a few behind the scenes shots whilst shooting at the skate park.
With all my b-roll gathered together, I started to cut down the best bits and see how much I had. We’d shot loads of great stuff so coverage wasn’t an issue. I could now set about compiling my questions for the interview.
I had a few in mind as I returned to Lorna’s studio to do the interview but I also wanted to work with her to make sure I got the most interesting points across and find out what she was and wasn’t happy to talk about on camera. I think this is vital for any on camera interview process. If you’re directing the interview (as opposed to just recording it – I was doing both!) it’s really beneficial to take the time to get on the same page as the interviewee. It can be a hard and stressful process for someone how isn’t used to talking camera; it’s a real skill to be able to get across your point concisely. Lorna however is/was an incredibly eloquent and thoughtful person and she gave some great answers.
I normally shoot interviews like this with two cameras but due to space restrictions and the fact that I was asking the questions/being Lorna’s eye line, I couldn’t monitor the cameras while we rolled. I decided in the end to go with just the 1DX MkII, again in 4K so I could, if needed, crop in and out of the shot to give the illusion of having two angles. The face tracking auto focus on the camera meant that I was safe in the the knowledge that if Lorna moved around during the interview I would still maintain focus on her. This all meant I could focus on being engaged with what Lorna was saying and get great answers.
Once I had all the elements I needed I set about first cutting down the interview and building the narrative. Once I had all the key points in place I built up the b-roll in relevant places.
I’d already decided that I wanted to bookend the film with skating footage and have the painting section in the middle. I had to tweak the order of the interview questions around to fit but I think it gave a nice flow.
I also added a few stills which Lorna and some of her friends in Palestine had taken on the trip. Most of them were just animated in a carousel formation in After Effects. One however I used to create some 2.5D parallax on to add interest. This is a technique I’ve used a bit before and I think it’s very effective.
Another After Effects element I created was the animated titles and credits. I’ve been doing a lot of hand lettering recently as a different creative outlet and this was something I wanted to incorporate into the video. I thought it would fit nicely with the style of Lorna’s hand painted work. The work ‘Painting’ from the title was produced with brush and ink on paper and then tweaked in Photoshop before being animated with the other type in After Effects. I find the process of hand lettering to be very therapeutic and ended up writing it out many times…
Once the edit was completed I began working on a colour grade. I’d shot all the footage using the EOSHD C-Log picture profile which gave me a nice, flat image out of the camera to grade. I’m by no means and expert but I enjoy the colour grading process. I used me two go-to plug-ins for this: Lumetri Colour and FilmConvert Pro. Here’s a few before-and-after shots to show the difference:
…And that’s about it. I’ve been really busy of late and my personal work has fallen by the way side a but as a result. This was a really enjoyable project to work on I’m very happy with the result. This mini-doc style of working is definitely something I hugely enjoy and want to do more of. I hope this post was of interest and gave you a better understanding of the process of producing this film. If you have any questions please feel free to leave a comment or email me.