Filming with a small crew

After a viewing of one of our early rough cuts, one of the reactions was that it seemed distracting that I was always holding a camera. Was there any shots without April and the camera? Um no.

I did always have a camera with me. As the director of photography, that is your role. Gillian Hrankowski was the second camera. She is responsible for shooting all those shots of me with the camera. Our job is to always carry a camera and shoot the living daylights out of anything that might possibly be in the Father Figures Documentary.

BaliGillian and I were the only two crew on the production crew.

Other films have huge crews to take care of everything. They take over hotel floors and locations. They are usually an impressive site.

Gillian and I, on the extreme other end of the spectrum, blended in. (Most of the time). A lot of the time we looked like a couple of tourists. We could come into a country with our little camera and not have to answer questions at borders. The amount of paperwork for a large crew is both immense, time delaying and expensive.Hong Kong

During the development phase, we decided to try filming with just the two of us as crew. Mainly because we really get along, we couldn’t decide on who’d we’d like to spend time with in the Philippines, and it was pretty darn expensive to bring another person.

It worked well.

By having only Gillian and I work the production of the documentary, my father, Dale, and his fiancee, Girlie, really let us into their lives. We became part of their routine and they chatted to us without thinking about the fact that we were filming. The tone was conversational, casual and intimate.

The openness also goes for myself. If I had to reveal so much about what was personally going on to an entire crew, I’d have a difficult time. The reality is that I felt I was confiding in Gillian. When I look to the other camera, I’m actually looking at my friend and thinking “what the hell is going on”?

I did understand that we were making a film, but there is a sense of quiet of being just one-on-one and how we approached the documentary. Emotionally I was free to express my feelings to Gillian, my friend. Eventually those moments made it to the final edit, and I’m impressed with the real rawness and honestly that the small crew team approach provided.

The drawback to such a small team is there never seems to be down time. When shooting, it is long days followed by downloading footage, checking gear, charging batteries, and preparing for the next day.

The thing I don’t like the most about a small crew is putting microphones on. For our documentaries, we tape the mic under the clothes on the breastbone. It can be a fairly intimate process; for women, we put the cable under the bra and for men, we often take some chest hairs off in a not too comfortable way.

Adding to the challenge, is I have rotten luck often getting a good mic set. Often I get rubbing of clothing, or static. This puts me into a cold sweat, but as the comfortable, casual cameraman, you can’t let them see it. It is hard to remain friendly and calm when your head is screaming, “What the hell is wrong? Can’t you fix it? Why do you think you can do this without a professional audio guy?”.

And then, miraculously, it always works. I give myself a little high five and promise myself a really big beer after as a reward for conquering the audio gremlins.

Gillian and I didn’t just run the cameras. We are also producers, directors, audio ops, writers, accountants, editors, promotions and, surprisingly, really good detainment specialists. But that is for the next blog.