‘Choose your own task’ : I chose my task to be going to see a talk about something which interests me…
Doug Allen: Life behind the lens
On Monday evening, I went to the Electric Press in Millenium square, to see a talk by Doug Allen, a wildlife cameraman and photographer, best known for his work with Sir David Attenborough on Frozen Planet, Blue Planet, Human Planet, Planet Earth, Life, and Ocean’s Giants.
The evening was incredibly insightful, with Allen sharing incredible stories about his filming experience, and talking us through various pieces of footage telling us how he filmed it, and a bit about what life is like trying to film creatures in the most hostile environments.
Here is a great piece of footage was discussed during the evening: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3RElQWsh34
Focusing mainly on the Arctic and Antarctic, we learned a huge amount about the difficulties he encountered whilst trying to work in up to -40 degrees celsius, and the dangers he experienced trying to capture creatures like Polar Bears, Walrus’s and Whales – which on many occasions were life threatening.
Although obviously my opportunities as a film maker have not yet taken me anywhere near either of the Poles, I found that I could apply a lot of what he was discussing to my own practice. Before even picking up a camera for the first time, Doug Allen was a diver, and then a scientist, and so had a great deal of knowledge about the Arctic and Antarctic. The reason he embarked on his career as a cinematographer, was because of his incredible passion for the Polar regions, and the wildlife that can be found there. When it came to filming, Doug’s wealth of knowledge allowed him to work efficiently, knowing so much about the animal’s behaviour: their locations, the times of year to film, which species are important to film. His research enabled him to know when something really special was happening that absolutely must be caught on film. At one point in his presentation, Doug praised the Inuit people, saying that without their help he would not have been able to film even a fraction of what he had, it was only because of their knowledge of the area and the animals that his team could capture the footage they needed.
What I can take from the above, is that technical knowledge of film alone is often not enough, it is also very important to know your subject/environment when making a documentary. The amount you need to know varies depending on what you are trying to capture, however it is obvious that the better your understanding of your environment/subject, the better you will be able to film, not only in terms of accessing behaviour, but also being able to film it in an appropriate way. Understanding the background of who or what you are filming dictates how you will film it: everything from framing to focus to selecting each shot – this all is more effective when the subject is well researched. This idea of ‘knowing which moments are special’ really resonated with me; It made me realise that I need to research my topic or person well before hand, so that when I film I can instinctively know how and when to record what is important.
Another thing which I felt Doug emphasised was timing. He spoke about how particularly with animals, it was crucial to constantly be ready to film at a moments notice, in order not to miss the special shots. I feel as if I can relate to this, in the sense that often when I see things that really would make interesting pieces of film, they are over before I can even get my camera out.
(You can watch Doug Allen talking a bit about his work here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2UqwX1mIiI)
Despite Doug Allen’s work not directly relating to my own, I found him very inspiring, particularly his passion for what he films which extends beyond just capturing it on camera. He immerses himself in the experience with the animals; bonding with them and interacting. This respect he has for the creatures he films, really does reflect in his work; you can see how calm and comfortable the animals are even in the presence of a human with a huge camera. I hope to have this kind of relationship with whatever I go on to film, through having a tactful, respectful and well informed approach.
Doug Allen’s book ‘Freeze Frame: A Wildlife Cameraman’s Adventures on Ice’ provides further photos and information about his work in the polar regions!