Yesterday afternoon, after coming home I turned the television in my kitchen on and I discovered, quite by accident, that "Geo Magazine" (RAI Tre – Italian National Television) was broadcasting a documentary I made a few years ago, entitled "75° Latitude South".
Indeed, what was going on the air was my first documentary produced in Antarctica for EREBUS Productions and with my first underwater images shot under the polar ice cap.
A documentary I have always been proud of and to which my career as fillmmaker owes a lot.
I looked at him a bit surprised and quite interested because it was a long time I did not see it and while the scenes followed one other on the screen, I was always more to think about that this shot was not right, the text in that situation was too descriptive, that cut was little fluid, this transition was inappropriate, my prsence in video was a bit too amateur etc. etc.
In other words, nowadays, with the experience gained in recent years and with a technical background on my shoulders certainly much greater, I would do it in a completely different way...
But then I stopped to ponder a bit and I thought: "If a RAI's major program as "Geo & Geo" , which has an archive of thousands of Italian and international documentaries, decides to air "75° Latitude South!" one more time after almost 5 years after its first airing, probably it is not so bad".
And things are just like that!
This documentary, in fact, albeit sometimes "candid" and a little "naive" from a technical point of view (both in terms of direction, shooting and authorial part), however was able to convey all the emotion and the excitement of a boy who, having always daydreamed to explore the South Pole, finally arrives in Antarctica and has the opportunity to experience a whole range of unique adventures with Weddell seals, emperor penguins, Adelie penguins and even with fish and marine invertebrates that inhabit the ocean depths beneath 3 meters of pack-ice.
This is its real strength. And maybe, adding too many "technical filters" (which today probably I would use...), all this excitement, even if a little childlike, would not be able to jump off the screen.
Clearly this is not to say that we do not have to treat every aspect of the production with the utmost care: in "75° Latitude South" there are very good shots, some – I dare say - amazing and no obvious technical error. Because errors can never be justified.
Instead, I mean to encourage anyone who feels sure of his technical knowledge to fully let himself being involved by the story he is telling with his video camera, without being harnessed by too many conceptual formalisms.
The advent of the digital image has changed everything. We all know it. Among the many changes coming from the passage from strips of plastic film covered with photosensitive material (film), or magnetized (magnetic tape, cassettes) to smaller and smaller memory cards, there is one change which, in contrast to the thrust propulsive digital, has been responsible for a "behavioral" involution of filmmakers (and photographers). No one seemed to realize that. The digital explosion stopped the chore of buying continuosly videotapes and film rolls!
Some of my readers could think.
Do not worry. I'm one of those filmmakers who will always thank the digital for avoid us the need of buying videotapes. But as Nature teaches, each new conquest, every evolution of more convenient new adaptations always has a compensation. There is always the other side of the coin and in this case, the obvious advantage of not having to buy videotapes anymore is in contrast with the negative filmmakers "de-empowerment".
But let me explain: whether you were a high-level professional, an enthusiast amatour, or just a beginner novice , having to deal with the supply of tapes or films required the operator to evaluate carefully when to press START and, moreover, when to press STOP. The tape was something very precious and not just becaue it was very expenive, but also because it didn't have the infinitive memory of the current memory card devices (this was a very important aspect while you where working). If you were in particular areas where it was hard to find tapes, the management of tapes " stock" became a vital aspect of the production. It happen to me to run out of the dairly established tape and I had to evaluate if using one bound for the next day in order to shoot a specific situation/scene knowing to reduce the number of tapes bound for the following day. It was a really trouble situation.
The importance given to the cost of a tape (meaning both in an economic and logistic sense) had the great merit of forcing anyone who approch a video camera to wonder if his actions was correct, monitoring continuously all aspects of the filming (exposure, composition, camera movement , etc.). It was the famous "attention for the details ".
The use of tapes forced filmmakers to do the right thing at the right time . It was a real " Darwinian selective pressure " which, in the end , allowed the survival - as a documentary maker - of those who had the strongest motivations and determination to be true filmmaker.
With the digital explosion, the environment of filmmaker is completely changed and this selective factor has completely lost its influence/effectiveness.
Those who believein the miraculous abilities of the digital post-production to "correct " what has been done, is denying and underestimating the role of technical/expressive skills needed to shoot at high level even in bright digital age.
The advantages coming from the modern technology which make possible the achivment of good results underline the need of attention that must be paid in every detail exspecially if you wish to have success. Today more than ever before.
Never think to adjust the job you did in the post production session as often do learners while filming. It's important to do a good job from the very beginning. If it is true that there will always be a chance of improving while editing, an unperfect picture can became an accettable one but never a masterpiece.
Do this exercise : prepare a small shooting session and pretend to have a beautiful 16mm camera. instead of your digital video camera and to have a limited number of minutes of film. Get out and start shooting following your scheduled work, without exceeding in time. Never check on what you shoot while you're on the set.
At the end of the shooting session go to your computer and look at the pictures you took. Judge yourself and have a great time!
The skill of catching what you want without repeating the sequence 100 times , brings another important advantage that will be useful if you wish to be a filmmaker : the ability to create the scenes you want without producig a large amount of footage.
If the possibility to choose between different options represents a positive aspect, especially for directors and editors, being forced to watch hours and hours of useless material is something that irritates and that makes you lose precious working days.
In the world of professional video, time is money!
Coming back from one of my trips to the Galapagos Islands I spent a full day in Quito, capital of Ecuador, waiting for my next day flight to Europe.
As usual I killed time strolling among the stands and pedlars in the open-air market with the idea of spending the last few dollars still left in my pockets and taking some pictures of interesting situations and fascinating faces.
During my wanderings among the Che Guevara T-shirts and ponchos moda of "fake" pure alpaca wool, I ran across one of the many campesinos' children, dressed in the traditional clothes of their culture, who wander around the city with the hope to sell some candy, sack of corn seeds and lottery tickets to anyone who comes within range.
She was a little girl, no more than a meter high, no more than 6 - 7 year old.
She came to me almost brandishing a Chinese package of strawberry chewing gum, inviting me to purchase it. Her face was ruddy , her cheeks dirty and her doing very determined. The typical doing of those who perfectly know that a package of chewing gum, trimmed to a tourist, makes the difference between a guaranteed meal and fasting.
I was bargaining for a pair of colorful striped trousers (one of those that anyone who faces a trip to the Andes buys as a souvenir and then rarely wears when in Italy...) and she slipped between me and the vendor flaunting the Chinese chewing gum under my nose; the stand operator - another kid not too much older than her - took the little pedlar by the striving arm and drove her away in a bad way, fearing that she could ruin his business.
But the stubborn campesino did not quail (I wonder how many times she was already driven away by other competitors in the race for the tourists shrapnels...) and returned to the fray, infuriating the young seller of clothes.
As a perfect Western, with the sometimes offensive self-importance which we do not even realize to possess, I decided to call a halt to this challenge for survival among children by buying the pants for four dollars and giving the last half-dollar that still reemained in my pocket to the intrepid candy street vendor without, however, taking the package of Chinese chewing gum in exchange.
With the belief that I had resolved the dispute like Solomon, went back to wander around the market but I realized almost immediately that the little campesino still was following me; the first idea that crossed my mind was that the child, feeling she had found the "right tourist", was trying to worm more money out of me and this irritated me a lot:"I cant believe it! - I thought - I magnanimously donated you half dollar without expecting anything in return and now you're trying to take advantage of me?"
I felt like an idiot when she came stretching out the package of chewin gums to cede it to me.
But the most tragicomic thing is that my ottusity had not yet given the best of itself so that I thought the little girl had followed me in the belief that I had forgotten to take the chewing gums.
With the good-natured tone of my broken Spanish I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and tried to explain to her that I had given him half a dollar as a gift and I did not need her package of chewing gum. Yet she kept looking at me from the bottom upwards with increasing frown, without stopping to hand the package out.
Even a local lady stepped in: "No quieres, no quieres (He does not want it, he does not want it)!" though reassuring her that she could still hold onto the coin.
In response, the young pedlar, her eyes now evidently angry and without saying a word, beat my left thigh with her hands, again placing the Chinese chewing gum under my nose.
She had understood very well what we had said: it was me that had not understood at all why she was so stubborn.
As I picked the package of chewin gums up she turned her back conspicuously satisfied and went away without looking at me anymore.
She was a small and poor pedlar, but a pedlar! And, as far as she was concerned, I could fit my compassionate, western charity in my backpack and bring it with me to Italy...
I could take more than a photograph of her; they would have been very good photographs.
But her gaze never authorized me to do so and taking photograps against her will would have been a violence, unworthy of anyone who aspires to be defined a true Photographer.
We all want to make videos. Precisely we all want to make videos since the explosion of clips on the internet. Few years ago, with my personal experience as photographer, I decided to work not only with my Reflex (which was used just to make pictures...) but also with a video camera. When I took this decision I knew clearly how I was going to use my first semi-professional camera; I was leaving for a Polar expedition in Antarctica (since then I have taken part in five expeditions at the North Pole and South Pole ). Seeing the exceptional natural beauty of the Antarctica I decided to take photos of both the nature and animals and to offer myself as a documentary maker to the Italian television.
When I said "I want to make videos", it was already clear that I intended to produce images technically and expressively, adequate to have success in the Italian television market. I had a specific goal , and this was a great advantage.
Nowadays, with the presence of different quality cameras already included in every electronic device, everybody has a tool in hand for producing videos that , often, is used unknowingly. We are all filmmakers , but only few of us have the real skills to do it. What I'm trying to say in this first opening article that represents a manifesto that will inspire all future work, is that you can not talk about VIDEO intended as a monolithic entity, always equal to itself.
There are many types of videos connected not only to the various purposes that every filmmaker tries to achieve before pressing the REC button, but also to the many results we expect to achieve from our shooting.
I'm not talking about differences of genres: we all know that a science fiction movie is something different from a romantic comedy and, more generally, that the cinema ones s are completely different from television dramas and inquiry reports.
What I want to highlight is that the personal perspectives of each filmmaker lead to technique, content , expressive and logistic assessments that will be different from time to time and can never rise to the role of dogmatic paradigm. Nothing is absolute! Everything is (or at least it should be) functional to the final result!
For example, if I'm working for a big production company that deals with weddings or events filming (for instance music or television star weddings, sport celebrities or heirs to the throne of Royal Houses) I will face problems and situations that don't belong to the photographer/filmmaker who deals weekly with weddings of ordinary people.
If I'm the uncle of the bride and I would like to capture memories of the most beautiful day of my beloved niece , I will act differently and with completely different tools. Can you imagine your uncle assembling the rails of a cart in the aisle of the small church where you have chosen to get married? Or the BBC cameraman that shot William and Kate with his smartphone...? They are both indeed dealing with weddings.
There are many reasons why one person decides to use filming equipment (both photographic and video): from the ones of the amateur who wishes to show his friends his last journey, to the real passionate who searches for his aesthetic canon throughout every detail; the small local production house to the video–production company that works for important and national networks and from the people who publish curious movies on the web, to those who are looking for a web professional display and an income for his activities as a filmmaker.
This is why, as far as possible, in this blog I will try to respect the differences that characterize the digital image world as well as the different expectations of those who are really passionate about videos and photos shooting.
Of course, all this "video-diversity" has nothing to do with the fundamentals of photography and videography: if an image is not clear or if it wobbles, it will probably be a wrong one.
For this reason the basic principles of photos / video will be always at the center of our conversations.
One final note: the difference between "professional" and "amateur" lies only in the fact that the first earns money from his business and it does not imply any assessment on technical/expressive skills of anyone. There are always good amateurs able to impress professional photographers.