Category Archives for "Cinematography"

“On Wings of Hope” wins Best of ASMP 2013

“On Wings of Hope”, the documentary that I filmed in Afghanistan last year, just earned me a spot among the 20 Best of ASMP photographers in 2013. I’m humbled and honored to be included in this fine group of amazing photographic professionals and want to congratulate all past and present finalists.

Here is an excerpt of the interview:

Pascal Depuhl is awarded "Best of ASMP 2013" for "On Wings of Hope"

“On Wings of Hope, a short documentary telling the story of an aid agency that provides air transportation to all humanitarian organizations in Afghanistan. 

Pascal Depuhl had been creating motion projects with his clients for only six months when he went to Afghanistan to film the short documentary On Wings of Hope, to tell the story of an aid agency that provides air transportation to all the humanitarian organizations within the country.

“Afghanistan is an amazingly beautiful place to film in, but the environments of extreme cold (25° below) and altitude (10,000 feet) make shooting challenging,” says Depuhl. “This is the first motion project I produced without following a script or a storyboard, making it a very formidable task and a great learning experience as I edited the story.”ASMP: How long have you been in business?
Pascal Depuhl: I’ve been a professional photographer since 1988 …”


Read the full interview at Best of ASMP and watch the 15 minute short documentary here:

TechTip: Why my Canon 5D MkII doesn’t power up with an external battery.

(TechTip – a short post about a quick tip that will save you time and frustration).

Blueshape's external battery with 4 power ports.

Blueshape’s external battery with 4 power ports.

I hooked up a Blueshape Bubblepack external battery to my Canon 5D MkII set up today. When I turned on the camera, it seemed like the battery was empty – although it was fully charged. If you’ve seen my rig, you know that I place the Zacuto plate that usually protects my EVF over the camera’s screen in the back, since I don’t use it while shooting.

However, I did not see the camera message, letting me know that it can not communicate with the battery and wanting to know if that was ok with me. All you need to do it dismiss the message, by clicking ok and everything works fine. So here’s the tech tip: On startup let the camera know that you’re ok with it not communicating with the E6 battery – since it’s not installed and it will now be powered by an external battery (or AC adapter).

How did you get that shot? … the one where you’re interviewing the pilots in the cockpit?

The only humanitarian flight, that really exists,” says Laurent Saillard “is PACTEC.” He should know, since he in head of ECHO, the European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection. He is referring to the humanitarian air service, that is the only NGO, that flies into about half of the 35 airports, that they service in and around Afghanistan. So not surprisingly I spend a lot of times in airplanes, which comes with filming a documentary film about an air service in Central Asia.

If you know anything about flying, you know that take off and landing are the most intensive times in a flight and they require a sterile cockpit, which means that nothing is in there that shouldn’t be – like a nosy filmmaker for example. However, especially on long flights, when the plane is cruising along on auto pilot, I used that time to interview the pilots. I feel that having the conversations in flight adds authenticity to the shots and is a wise use of the limited time I had in country.

Iwan Interview
However there are some very unique challenges to filming inside an aircraft that is in flight. First of all propeller planes are not the quietest environments I’ve worked in. So recording the voice of the pilot proved to be a challenge. Then there is the fact that the interior of the aircraft is much darker in relationship to the sunlit skies, that always exist at their cruising altitude of 25,000 feet. If I want to see anything of the outside, I’ll have just a silhouetted captain to interview. Lastly there is not a lot of room to do anything – the widest spot inside a King Air Super 200 is 4 feet 4 inches (1.62 m) wide.

Interview setup in King Cockpit horz

Let me walk you through, how I solved each of these problems, one at a time:

  • Sound. Using any kind of mic would pick up the noise that the engines make, just listen to Vince speak during his interview. He’s miked with a lav mic, but you can hear how loud he is talking to cut through the noise of the props. That works for a sentence or two, but not for a whole story. Fortunately the pilots communicate with each other using the headsets that you see in the footage. So I jacked my Tascam DR 100 recorder into the planes comm system (Listen to what that sounds like), which gave me good audio. I should have fed that feed back into the camera to have a scratch track for sync, but I didn’t – so it took a long time to find a word among all the noise to sync to, but it’s possible (It’s really hard to hear, but you can listen to it here).
  • Lighting. I can’t set up a light inside a small cabin, that can overpower the sun. There’s not enough room, there’s not enough power to do that. I had taken one light, an Ikan ID 400, with me, that can be powered by a 6V battery. This got set up for the tight interview shots and gave me a nice light source for the close up shots during filming.
  • Rigging. Stretch out your arms. Well you can not do that inside the cabin, nor can you stand up straight, it’s under 5 feet (1.5m) high. Filming with a HDDSLR gives you a small footprint, so my Sachtler tripod straddles the narrow isle, the light is in the seat row on a very small light stand and I cram into the seat to. All this needs to get set up after takeoff (remember the sterile cockpit) and taken down well before landing. Then there’s the issue of not being behind the camera to see what your recording. One of the best pieces of kit I had with me was the Zacuto EVF. This little monitor can be positioned where ever it’s needed to see your framing. It turned out to be invaluable (BTW it gives you a lot more information about exposure, focus, … as well).

But this setup works and seeing the mountains gliding by behind Mark in the Kodiak or the sun move across the instrument pannel, while the King Air turns, makes this all worthwhile.

And that’s how I got the shot.

Getting the Shot… At 10K Feet in 14 Degree Weather (Guest blog post on DSLRVideoShooter)

Getting the shot at 10,000 feetThis is a guest post by Pascal Depuhl.

The highest place that I filmed in Afghanistan, come to think of it, the highest place I have ever been at in my life, is Kret. It is in the Wakhan Valley, in the far eastern end of Afghanistan, right by the Chinese border. The valley floor lies at 10,200 feet above sea level and if you think about the fact, that I live at 7 feet over sea level when things are normal … well you get the point – it’s high. The mountains around these valleys tower over you at 22,000 feet and the valleys are so narrow that we actually had to fly through Tajikistan to get to our destination, you’ll see why they make for some spectacular footage like this one that everybody asks me about…

Read the rest of this guest blog post on DSLRvideoShooter.

How to premiere your short documentary in the real world.

Plane parked in Fort Lauderdale.

Actual plane I filmed and flew in parked in South Florida.

So you’ve made your movie and you’ve been busy crafting a social media campaign for an online release and then some kind of opportunity comes along that will make your premiere stand out. Something unexpected, that drops out of the sky and into your lap. How do you transition your online release into a physical event? In a few weeks?
In the case of “On Wings of Hope”, my short documentary filmed in Afghanistan, it was the fact that the plane, which I had filmed and flown in central Asia, was being serviced stateside at a local airport (it’s the actual plane that you can see in the trailer). As soon as I heard that, I know I had a once in a life-time opportunity on my hands that I had to jump on. I mean how many times will I film a great story in a beautiful country of people who are doing incredible work serving others and then have the opportunity to share something as cool as an aircraft with my audience, as they are watching the movie with the plane parked in the same room as the screen? And if that wasn’t good enough, the pilot who would be flying the plane back to Afghanistan – yeah, I know that sounds insane, but he’ll make that 5 day flight in a few weeks – anyway – that pilot would be the same guy that tells the story in the film. So I have the movie, the plane and the pilot to pull off a one time premiere.
But how do you go about doing that? (Oh, here’s a few details I failed to mention: there is a zero budget for this event and the pilot will be in the US for 4 days, but I won’t know when until about 3 weeks before). So how do I pull this off?

The reason that I am getting in to all of this is to make one point: first of all you have to have great content, ’cause you can’t put lipstick on a pig. But with so much great content out there competing for eyeballs, you must stand out – and since this is the craziest thing I’ve done promoting my work, it seemed like an interesting case study. Will it pay off? I don’t know yet ask me in a couple weeks. Back to the promotion:

Actually let me back up even further. Before you get into anything, you gotta ask yourself: “What’s my goal?” Do you want to get your work out there? Create some buzz for your client? Fundraise? Introduce a new skill set you have to agencies? … I don’t care what your goal is, but you need to to now the endgame. Otherwise you just start throwing stuff at the wall and hoping it sticks.

My goal for this specific event, is to get my corporate documentary film making work in front of creative professionals that book people like me, in front of other photographers and film makers that want to partner up with people like me and companies and organizations that hire people like me.

First of all you need to get all the impossibilities out of the way. I mean those things that will kill the possibility of the event happening. Case in point: I got the opportunity with the movie and the plane, but I need a place that can accomodate both. If I find a hangar and a person willing to let me use it, but they tell me the rental fee is thousands of dollars, well the whole event is a no go – or it’s back to the drawing board.

In my case I called the company that is doing the work on the plane, figuring they would have a vested interest in helping me, since we’re also (indirectly) showcasing their work. I mean it’s still a long shot, but it’s worth a shot. Find out who to talk to, get through the secretary (not always easy), but I found myself with an appointment to show the CEO the short documentary – what ended up happening, was that he had gathered his 5 VP’s as well and – with a little bit of quick thinking and preparedness – the movie ended up being shown on a large TV – not the iPad I had thought would be sufficient for one person to watch. These guys were so impressed by the film that they asked me how they can help me (Hey, that’s usually my line.) Anyway – to make a long story short, they offered me the use of their 20,000 hangar, so we can park the plane next to the screen when we premiere the movie in a few weeks. If you happen to be in South Florida, you can grab tickets here and since you’re reading my blog – use the discount code “owohBLG” to get in for a dollar.

In the next few days I’ll talk about more ways to pull off an event that is memorable and makes you stand out when you show of you’re great content.

How to premiere a short documentary online.

You finished filming. Editing is almost done. The final details in the sound track are being worked on, the last color grading is being finished, the minute details are being ironed out. Your film is ready for the world to admire. But what do you do then? Do you simply upload it to your Vimeo page and hope for people to see it? Do you announce the YouTube link on facebook and wait for others to share it with their friends? You could do that – or you could follow the advice that Mary, a very successful entrepreneur friend of mine, lives by: “Go big, or go home.” However that’s much easier said than done, considering the volume of video that is uploaded onto the web every day. How can you make people notice your movie?

This is where I am today. “On Wings of Hope” – the documentary I filmed in Afghanistan in 2012 is finished. And I’ve decided not to go home, so all I can do is go big. Really big. For the last 2 months, I have been crafting a social media campaign that will talk about the premiere. What’s that mean? In short that means you want others to help you, by talking, blogging, posting, tweeting about why this should be watched by their friends, followers, reader, … in the first place. The easiest way to convince some one to help you, is to find out how this premiere can help them or their company and not yourself. That may seem a little counterintuitive at first, but hang in there – I’ll explain what I mean.

A couple bags worth of equipment.

A couple bags worth of equipment.

How do you figure out who would profit from promoting your film? OK. Before you read any further, you need to understand on thing, if you don’t have great content – stay home – no one’s gonna want to get behind mediocre stuff. In my case “On Wings of Hope” is some compelling content. It plays in Afghanistan, it’s about a humanitarian organization, that provides air transport to other NGOs and lands in places, that you wouldn’t drive your car on, beautiful footage, dangerous country, intriguing story. Sorry, where was I? Oh, yeah. Who can profit from promoting your film?

So the first thing I did, was grab a photo I had taken of all the gear that went to Afghanistan with me – and write down every vendor of every piece on that photo. I made a list of everything and everybody that made it possible to film the movie (remember think big), for example the outfit that made the boots that kept my feet warm, the company who build the aircraft we flew in, … you get the point. Finally I looked at the relationships I have with bloggers, manufacturers, professional organizations, social media gurus, the list goes on and on (literally).

With that list in hand I get on the phone. And Skype. And Twitter. And email. And facebook. The easiest people to get behind you are those you have a relationship with, especially if you’ve helped them in the past with some of their projects. Remember the social in social media? It’s not about quantity it’s about quality. It’s about helping each other. Last time you helped them, now they’ll help you, especially if them helping you helps them. Got it?

On skype with Nino OWOH

On Skype with Nino Leitner,discussing on how to promote the online release of “On Wings of Hope”

Reach out to them. Start with the people you helped.  Talk to the guys, you produced a workshop for, the company, that you’ve made a video featuring their products for free, the professional organization, whom you volunteered to film their event. You haven’t done those types of things? It’s a lot easier to go to the next level of people you want to reach, if you can say:

Hi there, (name of person you met at _______________) I am putting together a screening for my movie and Nino Leitner, Cinevate and ASMP are all going to help me promote this event. I believe this event can help you” [Remember? ‘Help them’? Otherwise reread the second paragraph] back to the conversation“this event can help you by showcasing your _________________. How can we collaborate to make this successful for both of us?

The first supporters are the hardest to get. Once you can rattle of 3, 7, 15, … known bloggers, organisations, companies it becomes a lot easier for the person you’re communicating with to say ‘yes’.

So after a month of work (no I did not say this was easy, fast or wouldn’t cost you any sweat) I had half a dozen motion equipment manufacturers, 8 or so pretty well positioned bloggers and 4 photography and video organizations behind the online release. They agreed to tweet about the launch, give me guest blog spots on their blog, feature the release on their websites, post it on facebook all on the same day, the day the movie releases. Everyone has also was not to talk about this before that day. So far so good. I’m well on track for getting some decent momentum behind the online release of this film. I’m not expecting it to be the next ‘Gangam Style’, but it’s going to do much better than if I would have uploaded it to vimeo and told a few of my friends.

That’s how far I got, when I got the phone call that changed everything …

How did you get that shot? … the one where time gets sped up?

When Bayliner was revolutionizing the boating market, they hired me to help them tell their story about how they listened to what people wanted in a boat, when they created the brand new Bayliner Element. I was tasked with creating a short corporate documentary film that walk the viewer through the process from the initial conception of their idea, through brainstorming new ways of addressing the issues Bayliner heard their customers look for, engineering and designing a patented new hull and deck to the manufacturing process of the Element.

Filming this project over a period of several months in their Research and Development plant, where interviews got combined with recording parts of the production process, where some of the tasks take hours or days, way more time than a short piece allows us to show – so how do I squeeze in the few hours it takes to gelcoat the mold for the hull? Or how can I show the joining of the deck to the hull?

GoPro Camera clicking away for a second time lapse angle.

GoPro Camera clicking away for a second time-lapse angle.

The simple answer? Time lapse. According to WikipediaTime-lapse photography is a technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured is much lower than that used to view the sequence.” In other words in slowing down the amount of pictures you photograph, you shorten the length of time it takes to view.

[Here’s some math – in case your interested, if you’re not, it’s totally safe to skin this part. A regular movie plays at 24 frames per second (30 for video, but let’s stick with one number for now), which means that if I show you 1 second of motion, you actually see 24 frames, but it appears to be a continuous action. If however I take a picture once every hour and play it back at 24 fps (frames per second) you just watched a whole day in one second. Got it? Ok back to speeding up time.]
GoPro birdseye view from paint boom

GoPro birdseye view from paint boom

Let’s take a look at the gel coating. In this process a giant router has cut out a huge block of styrofoam to the exact specs of the hull. Expert Craftsmen coat this with a clay like substance, that gets sanded down to perfection. This “plug” gets spray coated with special gels and paint to create the mold that all boats are made in. Since this part of the process happens only one time in the life of the boat, it’s important and interesting to document.  So I captured it with 4 cameras: a Canon 5D MK II for video, a Canon 5D for time-lapse, a GoPro shooting video and a GoPro shooting another time-lapse.

5D Time Lapse

Clamped to the wall the 5D is shooting a frame through the window every few seconds.

Since I did not know what we were going to use in the final film, it’s nice to have options. I’m not going to go into all the planning portions of this time-lapse – you can read how to plan for a commercial time-lapse project, if you want more details. There are also some excellent tutorials on time-lapse photography, check out Philip Bloom’s post for instance, so I’m not going to go into the technique here.

Time  lapse absolutely has a place in corporate videos, especially if you combine multiple camera angles and include video into your motion piece to hold the viewer’s attention. Take a look …