When your whole job is to make things look good, it can be hard to break certain habits. As a DP, I'm almost always asked to make a project look better than its budget; to achieve the maximum production value from the minimum resources. But every project is different and every project demands its own unique treatment. Once in a while a project comes along that requires me to put aside that entire way of thinking.
This music video for the song "Americanarama" by Canadian band Hollerado was something I shot over the summer that was released on YouTube last week:
Within a day of being posted online, it almost instantly became the most-watched (and most talked about) thing I have ever shot. And yet, from a cinematography standpoint, it's also one of the simplest things I've ever shot.
When the director, Greg Jardin, sent me his treatment for this no-budget video, I was immediately excited for the opportunity to work on it. The concept was so cool and so unlike anything I had ever seen before that I just wanted to be a part of it in any way that I could. In reading the treatment and in talking to Greg however, it was also immediately clear that my primary job as the DP would be to make sure that the camera stayed out of the way of what was going on in front of the camera.
Of course it's rare for filmmakers to want camerawork to call attention to itself and become a distraction (less so in the music video world), but this video required a whole other level of staying out of the way. The fact is that the lo-fi, "home-made" nature of the video is what gives it its charm. If I had used any of the DP tricks up my sleeve to try to make it look polished or slick, the concept wouldn't work.
So, one locked off shot, outside in natural daylight, YouTube video aesthetic -- you might ask exactly what it was that I did as the DP on this video. Essentially, I did what is the most basic and most important job of the DP -- to support to the director's vision of how he wanted to tell the story.
I was a second set of informed eyes, making sure sure the concept came across visually in the clearest possible way. I suggested things like adding black material to the sides and roof of the scaffolding structure to make sure all squares were equally lit by the sun, folding the red material used for the airplane's "trail" in a way that read better on camera, adding black tape to the metal cross beams each square of the scaffolding to make them less visible and less distracting. I made sure that the f-stop we were shooting at was deep enough to hold focus on both the scaffolding structure in the background and the band members in the foreground at the same time. During rehearsals and takes, I watched closely and took notes on what cues were coming too early or too late so that the stage hands could adjust their timing as necessary.
I didn't use a lot of my regular tools to shoot this video. I didn't use any fancy camera tricks. I didn't use any lights. But I did do everything I could to maintain the aesthetic that the director was going for; to make sure the video looked like it was supposed to look. When it comes down to it, that's what the job of a DP is.