Posts Tagged ‘Advancing the art and craft of filmmaking’

Master Film Workshops – The Passion Remains

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

Passion Remains!

A weekend on film making with Peter Anderson asc and Andrew Lesnie asc, acs

All about 3D and Lord of the Rings….

Andrew Lesnie at the VLAFF Master Lighting Workshop

Over 2 days last weekend I spent more than 10 hours in a totally inspiring workshop with two of the film industries’ top cinematographers. The event was organized as part of the Vancouver Latin American Film Festival and featured 3D and special effects supervisor wizard, Peter Anderson and Director of Photography, Andrew Lesnie.

Both of these gentlemen have a lot in common aside from 3 decades in the business, they are still passionate about what they do and share this information freely with their peers, upcoming stars and film school students.

With a filmography that includes movies that just about everyone has seen (perhaps multiple times) the chance to hear some of their tips and techniques in person was a draw for over 100 people to the sold out workshops.

Peter Anderson spoke on Saturday about his passion for making 3D movies of almost everything. When asked what makes a good candidate for filming in 3D, he replied “almost any movie; as it is about the storytelling and 3D is only a tool in that story.” There are some films that have used the technology for helping the horror get more real or so fish can bite the audience. Perhaps they aren’t the best films made and there are films that won’t get any better just because they are in 3D but Peter felt that well written films planned in 3D will always have an audience for the experience.

Working with massive, heavy, complex, stereoscopic camera gear on just about any type of support you can image (race cars, planes, boats, cables…you name it) and calculating moving optical and physical distances to make sure the audience doesn’t get acute eyestrain while often working in conditions that would test most people… well you get the picture. I am sure there are those that sometimes wonder how Peter can have worked so long and remained so low key and soft-spoken.

One of his bigger challenges came with working with U2 on their U23D-the movie, like the size of the band, it utilized the largest 3D camera crew ever assembled with more than 7 3D cameras running simultaneously in 9 concerts in 7 different cities in the Southern Hemisphere. I believe he said that more footage was created than for Avatar….

Peter’s commitment for the industry and the community is obvious from his involvement on so many trade committees, guilds and association boards. It only seems logical that he would make trip to Vancouver to talk the workshop after delivering another massive movie (The Legend of Daming Palace) the evening before…

He is very technically minded and has a tremendous discipline in his work. His photography pastime reflects his mindset. He will take a 4×5 view camera to a destination of choice with only 1 loaded film holder (real film). A shot is only created if he thinks everything is perfect – no take two or take twenty. Get it right the first and only time by planning every detail. In his 3D and effects specialty, that is the only way to succeed

I believe his mantra runs “ I should have done this on the day but I didn’t so I will fix it post – is a mistake

Andrew describes the lighting in the Master Lighting Workshop

Andrew describes the lighting in the Master Lighting Workshop

Andrew Lesnie who is here in Vancouver finishing principle shooting “Caesar -Rise of the Apes” opened his presentation with a talk about one of his favourite films, “Babe”. If you have not seen this film, now is the time to rent it before you read the rest of this post so you can understand the art and craft of Andrew and how he works.  The first time I saw it with my kids I was in awe of the quality of every part of the visual storytelling. It is a masterpiece.

As Andrew went through the stories of his work on Babe, you knew quickly that he loves his work. It seems that there are those that have the great fortune to be able to pursue a life-long, single career passion of the path they choose. Peter and Andrew both began as kids and have never strayed from their love. Sure it may seem challenging at times but their passion never feels like a “job”.

It became quickly apparent that the old axiom “never work with kids or animals” didn’t hold much credence with Andrew. The opportunities to make the near impossible happen, without the “new methodology of computer imaging” that is accessible now, showed his film making abilities. Just imagine taking a children’s fantasy book and bringing it to life without computers…Writers and directors may have the idea, but it is the cinematographer who needs to bring it to the screen.

After showing many examples of how things took place, how he solved problems, lit and shot the final outcome, the attendees were hanging on every word, absorbing ideas like light in the depths of the darkest set of Lord of the Rings, his next subject.

Since none of you have likely been hiding in the caves or Mordor for the last 12 years, I am sure I don’t have to describe what it must be like to meet and listen to the lead of a huge visual team that brought the LOTR series to the screen.

Andrew has a great presence and a very low key personality, not necessarily what you would expect with some-one who worked on the biggest single film project ever. He engaged everyone, filled us with many stories about selected scenes and how they came about. He shared stories and details about working with Peter Jackson, the director and how “simple setups” were really multiple shots with changes and coverage so he would be lighting some very large areas as for 360 views, never knowing where the camera may end up next.

In his original plan for the series, the vast majority of scenes were to be back-lit for drama (check out the DVD’s) and Peter Jackson wanted the actors to have catch-lights in their eyes. Once I had heard the stories, I know I will go back and watch the trilogy with a different “eye” and understanding.

Master Lighting Workshop

Andrew demonstrates lighting for storytelling on a small set at the VLAFF Master Lighting Workshop

Needless to say this could be a long post if I don’t move on.

The master lighting workshop portion of the day was based on the simple premise that lighting is part of the storytelling and you must be thinking about the action, motivation and the story being told. A good director of photography will work to enhance the story, the drama or impact by creating the environment with lighting. Know the script and add to it with light and shadow. Set moods, create drama and mystery.

Andrew quickly demonstrated the ability to change moods, depth and story on a small set.  Once again all of the attendees were paying close attention with many writing notes, shooting reference stills and video. It is quickly obvious that Andrew’s skills are second to none.

The next portion of the day featured the more recent “I am Legend” with Will Smith. More dark dramatic action filmmaking that would test anyone’s abilities. Andrew described lighting a chase using a single flashlight to shooting a massive scene with thousands of extras on the docks of Manhattan. Not for the faint of heart…

At various times he entertained us with his methods of getting what he needed done, despite the direction of a director or producer. I think everyone was wondering how he or she would have handled the evacuation sequence.  A scene that evolved within the pandemonium of many people with guns, helicopters, explosives and shooting at night in NYC post 9-11 with multiple cameras.

Karl Hermmann, Peter Anderson, Andrew Lesnie

Panel discussion at the VLAFF master film workshop with Karl Hermmann, Peter Anderson, Andrew Lesnie

Panel Discussion

The event ended with a panel discussion that included Peter, Andrew and local Vancouver cinematographer and workshop host, Karl Herrmann.  The theme of passion for what you do was repeated. Stay inspired, focused and work on your storytelling.

All three of the panel have been working for over 30 years and followed their passion prior to that. Very lucky to have such a privilege to work at what you love and for all of us participants, very, very privileged to have such great leaders in the industry willing to share and inspire us.

I left the workshops inspired and ready to go for when I get my next $200 million feature ;-). In reality I am, once again impressed by our community and the talent and desires of all of us to strive for great things. It appears that Adidas campaign “ Impossible is Nothing” is true…

I look forward to next year!

Thank you to all of the sponsors who made this possible!

http://www.vlaff.org/en/workshops/workshops-2010