Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Master Mind with Contagious Will-Power

I witnessed a master mind at work during my last filming expedition. His name is Ernst Bromeis and he is a free-ride swimmer on a mission.  A man with buckets full of will-power, fighting for one of the world's most basic needs. This need kills more people than all the wars in the world combined. Ernst is driven to bring awareness that all humanity has the right towards clean drinking water. This guy gives a whole new meaning to the idea of not giving up, and it's necessary, since the task of nursing the world's water problems is kind of overwhelming. 

Often we are facing disappointing situations where things do not always go as planned and we feel the urge to give up on that elusive dream. It looks so impossible. You are starting to think that, that Pipe dream is after all just a dream. Me, being kind of an emotional person, often falls victim to disappointment and land face down in this trap. I unwillingly loose a lot of speed during those moments and it takes a while to get one out of that dark hole you got yourself in.  Then before giving up completely you still have the chance to pick yourself up again. That's where you need a strong mind…

This guy.. Ernst is not one to give up easily. I mean, swimming 130 km under 3 days sort of nonstop with a few hours of rest in-between is just mental. At times I could not look in his direction. It hurts just watching how he swings arm stroke by arm stroke.....over and over. We were not made to do this, I thought. But somehow he just keeps on going. 5km, 6km, 4,5km…. after day one with more than 18 hours in the water we were at 60 km. I cannot even run 60 km…. never mind swim it.  Some of the crazy observations I recall is how specific his requests were during his quick eating breaks. It was like: warm pasta, risotto, white bread. He knew exactly what he wanted. That's amazing when you can listen to your body like that. Probably the only way to keep on going, is to be so finely tuned. 

Maybe at times the crew was convinced that we could not go further. It's too challenging or too dangerous to swim at night... Then Ernst just calmly said: I am ready again. Let's swim. Then everybody without questioning followed his contagious will-power.

Drama we had plenty and now I have in the bag all the elements for a great story. It's now up to me to put method to what is conceived by most as utter madness. But if there is one lesson to learn, it is that no challenge is too great and that you can achieve your wildest dreams if you put your mind to it. Maybe we are naive to think we can change the world, however, imagine we all just don’t stop when it's starting to hurt and just try that one time more. How much better place the world would be. Imagine that.  Now stop imagining and go and do it. 

Thanks for the inspiration Ernst Bromeis.

For more on Ernst Bromeis visit www.dasblauewunder.ch
Photos by Andrea Badrutt. Visit his website at www.andreabadrutt.ch

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Nepal - "make a decision, while still in the moment"

Never thought I would ever make it to Nepal. Not really the hiking/climbing Mount Everest type, but always thought if the right opportunity came around, I would love to experience Nepal through the eye of the lens. Then the earth quake happened. I knew that now I really had to search for a reason to go. It took a mere two phone calls, one e-mail and two months, before boarding the plane. I was commissioned to shoot a documentary film project in Katmandu, the capital of Nepal.

Over the years I realized that upon arrival at your final destination, even if you are completely dead tired, go out and capture as many moments as you can find. You have to force yourself right from the word go, to start filming. Why? Well, one gets used to the new exotic environment so quickly that you start to take details for granted. 

Once you get started, it's exiting. You are fired up and the material is rolling in. Great, that’s what you want. Well, kind of. . . . .  For a start at least, but soon you are confronted with new challenges. Too many stories and you are lost in confusion. The real question is: What is important and story related? Just randomly shooting pretty pictures is by no means the goal here. Somehow there need to be a method in the madness. Make sense out of all the stories and focus on the red line! That common ground that glues all of it together. Although one feels like hiding underneath the covers, by experience you know that the only way out is to punch through all the noise in your head.

Small pieces of the bigger picture happen all the time around you. Sometimes you catch it, but most of the time these moments just fly past you, never to be repeated again. Do you stop? Tell the driver to pull over? "There is nowhere to park, Sir. You are putting all of us in a hazardous situation." Remember that nobody can see what you have in mind for the film. That vision, is only with you and you alone are the only one understanding it. It's hot and it's a mission, and there are the first rain drops now! Do I just shoot from the hip, hand held? Oooo noooo, so you rather just let the moment go and for the rest of your trip, you will have to wonder about it. You have to remember that when you get home and back in the comfort of the edit, nobody cares about why you don't have enough footage. So make a decision, while still in the moment. Stop the driver. Take your tripod, even if the moment isnow gone, don't worry, something else is about to happen. Because if you keep on stopping the driver, sooner or later the one magic moment after the other will present itself. Your imagination will finally no longer be a vision, but the pieces of the puzzle will start falling in place and the reality of a beautiful creation will be yours to share. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Protect what matters

– What kind of films do you make? 
– How do you know which jobs to say no to?
– What is your roll as a filmmaker?
– When do you use camera movement? 

These are some of the questions people ask me all the time. 

I do such a lot of different projects. Therefore I always end up saying; "I am interested in anything with an interesting story.” If the idea is not good, then its your job to try and convince the client otherwise. But find a way no matter what.  

Regarding the questions: "How do you know which jobs to say no to?" Well, I don’t. I just push for a unique angle to make it interesting for myself. Whether it is to try out new film styles like lighting methods, camera techniques or trying different film genres. The point is to keep on enjoying what you are doing and not that it starts to feel like work. 

My roll as a filmmaker: In the perfect world you have a highly skilled crew standing firmly behind you. Assisting you every step of the way. People can bring their expertise to the table and together you direct them to make a production happen. But more often than not, you are out-and-about, far away from home, having to do everything yourself. Then you need to rely on your experience to make fast judgements, regarding framing, focus, exposure and direction. You need to understand everything about every aspect of the job. About sequence, cutting, colour... you name it. If something goes wrong with the camera you need to know, how to save your day. Understanding the roll of everybody's job helps you to protect what matters and nobody can take you for a ride. 

Another question that keeps on coming back for more is the issue of camera movement. In my opinion, when drone footage starts to looks like drone footage, then we are missing the point. When we are putting emphasis on the camera movement, then the audience will concentrate on the wrong aspects of what you are trying to tell them. The camera is there to not show that it was filmed with a camera. Movement should only be used to reveal something important, or to move only when your subject is moving. Like my BBC mentor Phil Darley always used to say. “Camera movement should always be motivated by something on the screen.” Next time, before moving your camera, ask yourself these questions. 

- Why does the camera have to move?
- Why do I need to see what the camera wants to show me?
- What information do I learn when revealing something on the screen?

Then you will have intentional camera movement to create a feeling. If you are not sure… the save bet is to NOT move the camera! Well, that was my two sense for the day. For more on my work visit www.subgraviti.com or check out my blog for more stories.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Filming for Larry King in Israel - Part 2.

Every shooting day was ridiculously long but inspiration was running high as Israel is truly any cinematographers dream destination. We had a great team with producer, assistant, driver, guide and talent. They all became gaffer and sound engineers, extras and actors as the days progressed. There was not a moment of chilling and we pumped out the shots with careful consideration. On one occasion we stopped next to the highway to take a top shot of the Sea of Galilee. I jumped out and immediately a car with a trigger happy Israeli soldier stopped shouting in Hebrew to me. He had a gun and was ready to shoot…. how crazy is that. Well.. nobody really got what they wanted. The shot was not that interesting…… for both of us.

During our time in Israel I had the feeling that all the natural elements were proving themselves to me. One weekend we had a raging storm that came over the Mediterranean. The waves were up and the entire surfing population were on Red Alert. Anyhow, I was not here for fun and with the storm in full swing we made use of the free production value. Every day I took on the elements with motivation to try and top the previous day’s material. One of those nights, around 2 in the morning I found myself jumping out of bed completely in a state of paranoia. How quickly the state of Israel can do this to you. It sounded like the Carlton hotel was struck by a missile. The sound was so overwhelming and huge, the building was shaking. I jumped into my clothing and was ready to run for my life… but it was only thunder that struck right above the hotel. I was in complete disarray. The last week from a 16 days shoot I ended up in Jerusalem and if you thought it’s complicated within the country, this city takes things to an entire new level. I wish I could say that there was a magic button that one could push and find some sort of acceptance amongst all, but I fear to say that’s probably never going to happen.

One thing that does give me hope is that my filming here is part of Larry King-and-his-dynamic- team’s mission to help people with better ethnic and religious understanding amongst one another. To bring a positive message even though there is so much hate and judgment in the news today. I believe I am at the right place at the right time to do something in my small filmmaking way. To capture compelling stories and tell it in a truthful, but positive way. Everybody should once go and visit Israel and experience the place for yourselves. Besides all the extreme complications it’s an amazing country and I cannot wait for the next opportunity to film in the Holy Land.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Filming for Larry King in Israel - Part 1.

How to even start to express with how complicated Israel is!  All around the Holy Land there are countries that hates them. Israel in a way, has it all. Located mostly in a desert - somehow they are the only ones with lots of water. Not lots of water Switzerland, but lots of water Middle East. Now I am sitting in a small town in the north of the country. I can see the Syrian border on a beautiful snow covered mountain a mere 20 km away. Four days ago there would probably have been some amazing powder runs on that mountain, but most likely not used to its full potential.

Flying is kind of always a stressful experience. Reasons being: filmmakers don’t travel light. Every client requires you to do something special and to make "their" film stand firmly above competition. But for that you need gear.. and lots of it. Packing as light as possible is essential. Stripping it all down to the bare minimum, leaving everything unnecessary at home. However check-in luggage ended up at 28 kg, which meant 5 kg over weight. But with already 40kg hand luggage there was nowhere to go with the 5 kg over weight - but to pay.

When security x-rayed my bag everything came to a halt. They basically closed my security check point after I got in and diverted the other passengers elsewhere. Like I was the first camera man ever to travel by plane! However it was my first time traveling to Israel and little did I know what they had in stall for me. I was called over the loud speaker to come to the counter. A group of men started to ask me funny questions about everything. At first I thought it was a joke.. Security: Why do you work in Switzerland? What do you do? You are African, with a German passport living in Switzerland. That’s not good mate. How long have you been working? What kind of films do you make? Show us some of your films. Xaver: Heart Aspirations? Security: Yes… Xaver: OK but that would mean that it’s a world premiere. Security: Mmm… Pimps prostitutes… it’s not getting better mate... On the radio in Hebrew…. blablabla… Does not sound too good, I thought. Security: Who do you work for? Xaver: Well, Larry… Security: How did you get this client? Xaver: Mmm...Do you know Tina… Security: Why do they need you and not ask somebody from the USA?….. well the list goes on but that was some of the more interesting ones. I must admit that I enjoyed the whole interrogation.

After that we went for a second round to a separate room… just to make sure and re-check all my hand luggage. I was worried about the weight, but somehow it was not on their agenda. They were looking for something way more threatening. Just when I thought it was over I was told to come with them to my checked-in luggage. They took me in a completely separate Israeli’s check-in area. I had to unpack my entire checked-in luggage while every part was examined thoroughly. As we departed an armored police vehicle followed us all the way down the runway until we were in the air. That’s something pretty substantial. Later I managed to ask the Swiss Police force what that was all about and they told me that El Al Airline is the most dangerous airline in the world. I tried to look if there was any fighter jets following us but could not see them.

Now you are in the Holy land and believe me when I say that you are in the hot seat. That first night I could not sleep. My head was spinning with excitement. Maybe I had the Jerusalem syndrome. There is such a thing... when people completely freak out when they are in the Holy Land and think they are the next big Masaya that came down from Heaven. It was not like that… however I had many script ideas flowing through my head. Basically at 1h00 I was kicked out of bed. I sat by the computer and jotted down all the thoughts that were rushing from my mind. The most beautiful words merged with crazy pictures. The land of milk and honey is no myth. It’s real.    

Behind the scenes photos by: Calvin Mays
For more on Xaver Walser's work visit: www.subgraviti.com