You can see the documentary about my dad near the bottom of this very in-depth blog post!
I love my dad, and of course my mum, I see them as often as I can. Even if I am only home between jobs for a few days I squeeze in lunch or something. They mean the world to me.
My dad, Arnold Bloom, or Arnie as he prefers to be called is 69 years old and a retired pharmacist. He has been immensely supportive through my life and my career both financially when I needed it, emotional and moral support.
He puts up with me wanting to take photographs of him all the time and occasionally even film him….actually he has appeared in quite a few things. Mostly smoking cigars which he likes to do as he calls it “his only vice he has left”. In fact if you go to B&H in New York to the ProVideo section he is often on a bank of screens there puffing away in a low light comparison test I did a few years back.
I have made documentaries on so many people for my work and a hell of a lot for myself via my “mini documentaries”. These are what I call my personal projects, things I make to keep me happy creatively as often with paid work it is either a bit dull or perhaps doesn’t end up as you would like it to. So for the past 8 years I have made a hell of a lot “personal films” and many of those are mini documentaries. At the end of the post I will embed a few of my favourite ones as well as dad’s appearances on camera for me. Below though is a super short one of him for a taster!
We never know how long we have in life, I have lost close friends whose lives have been cut short far too early but some members of my family have lived to an incredibly old age. Now, all my grandparents have gone. I remember thinking back in 2001 how lucky I was to have them all alive. Within a year I had lost both my grandfathers to cancer. One to prostate and one to lung cancer. My grandmothers died a few years ago too.
One thing I wish I had done was do a film on each of them. When my grandfathers died I was not making anything for myself at all, I was staff a jobbing news cameraman at Sky but I was freelance when my grandmothers died and I regret never interviewing them for a documentary.
In my opinion, making a film about a loved one whilst you can must rank as one of the most important things one can do as a filmmaker. Sadly I still don’t have children, maybe one day, but at least my sister does and although they know him very well, inevitably one day he will be just a memory/ photos on Facebook (or whatever is around then) to them. I want them to be able to watch this long after he is gone and remember who their “papie” was and then be able to show their own children.
It would be amazing to hear my great grandparents words telling me their stories as I never knew them. Hopefully this and the one I will do for mum will rectify that for future generations. After all documentaries are exactly what the words implies. To document something, and this film is to have a historical record of my father for future generations to see and of course for me to remember him after he has gone to the great golf course in the sky.
Ever since I did the video with my mum about her dad I realised I really should make docos about my parents whilst I can. After all I have the skills and the gear, I may not really have the time truthfully but when do you ever?
I was supposed to be editing my Sony FS7 review this week…sorry for those who are waiting…this took precedent! As does my much delayed Wonder List blog posts…they are all coming! Never enough time!
My parents aren’t old but they aren’t young. Mum is 71 and Dad is 70 this year. I have no idea how long I have with them, I hope many years but we never know. My problem is I am a lifelong procrastinator….why do today what you can put off till tomorrow? We all know where that ends up, nothing ever gets done!
I wanted to do dad first as I already had something of mum (although I am going to do a film just about her soon) plus my dad’s health has worried me for quite a while now. Interviewing him was always at the back of my mind but he never seemed well enough, never enough energy, sleeping most of the time. Thankfully in the past few weeks he had some good news plus he found some terrific inner strength to beat something else, meaning he has gotten a lot a better. I realised it was time to revisit the idea.
He had known I had wanted to do this for some time but about a week ago I texted him and said that when I come down to visit at the weekend I would like to do an interview for the documentary about him.
This could have gone two ways:
“God no, I don’t want that” or “OK”
He said “OK”
So with my truck full of gear I drove to Maidstone in Kent where I grew up and they still live and turned their house into my house…CAMERA GEAR EVERYWHERE!!
Dad asked me what I wanted to talk about, I just said his life. I think he was getting a bit nervous but I really don’t like to talk too much with an interviewee before hand about what I will actually ask as I don’t think it helps them. When people start preparing answers it rarely comes across well, a bit stilted and unnatural. I knew what I wanted to hear from dad and I simply said that we are just going to have a conversation about his life.
I will talk more about how I approached the content and structure of this film after this section about the technical side…
To make it easier this would need to be on two cameras for editing purposes. Yes, I could shoot 4K and edit on an HD timeline and use the lovely crop ability but I wanted to make this a documentary that would last, quality wise, and actually film it and edit it in 4K. Therefore barring any 8K camera suddenly coming into my possession two cameras it would be! Although the edit I have put up is only HD for now. Once I am satisfied and made my tweaks then I will put the 4K up…It’s a big old file so I don’t want to keep uploading it!
Camera A was my super beast the Sony F55 recording internally at full 4K in XACV S-Log 2. I used the GL Optics rehoused Sigma 18-35mm cine lens for the wider shot and the Sigma 35mm ART F1.4 to get nicer bokeh on the tighter main shot.
This was the main shot, centrally framed and dad looking into camera. For many, looking into camera isn’t the easiest of things to do but I love it as a way for the subject to address the audience intimately.
For many docos with direct to camera eye line I have gotten around around this by using the “Eye Direct” system. This is a great way of getting them to look at camera but also for you to see them and them to see you. It’s not cheap but worth it if you do this sort of thing a lot. I was actually going to use it for this but I forgot it! I brought so much stuff down yet I managed to leave behind a couple of key bits (tip: always make a list of gear for a shoot then check them off as you pack them, which is what I normally do!) which were the Eye Direct and an XLR cable!
I asked Dad if he was OK looking at the camera and not me and he said yes, he has been filmed by me a few times as I said and he is very relaxed and easy on camera despite the only time he ever gets filmed is by me!
If I found he couldn’t hold the eye line I would have got him to look off camera towards me instead.
This is a motion control system, much simpler than their top end “Cinedrive” but way better than the old Oracle system which did a good job but you couldn’t do what I did here and certainly nowhere near as easily and most defiantly not without an operator!
The second camera I used is my beloved A7s and Atomos Shogun (in S-Log 2 mode to match the F55) so I could also shoot 4K…now I could have used my FS7 but the set up I was using would be easier with a smaller camera as it would need more support for the heavier camera.
What I wanted from the B- Camera was a moving dolly/ slider shot offset to the side but keeping my dad’s head in frame which normally would require an operator to use a manual pan/tilt head on the slider or use a Kessler Parallax. The Kessler Parallax slider add-on would give better results than manual operation of a head on the slider by far but the second shooter system gives pin point precision and most importantly nobody has to stand there moving it! You set it up and then let it go!
Having the angle/ frame drastically differently means you can cut between the eye line of the main camera and the off camera one without it being jarring.
Then I removed the drag control and put the SS slider motor on the appropriate motor plate (different sliders have different plates). I also used the small gear rather than the standard gear. This makes the operation near silent at the speed I was running it at. I literally couldn’t hear it unless I put my ear right to it. Naturally if it was noisy it wouldn’t be of any use in a situation like this!
Once everything was plugged in and the camera set up (I used the Sigma 50mm ART F1.4 on the Sony A7s with the Metabones adaptor) I got Dad to sit in position. Using the SS controller I set it to loop mode and chose the 2 key frame program mode.
I went to one end of the slider and angled the head using the direction keys on the control box to where dad’s head should be in frame then saved that key frame. Next I went to the other end of the slider and angled the head again to where it should be in frame. You then tell it how long you want it to take to go from point 1 to 2, also how long the speed ramp should be as you don’t want when it repeats the move for it to jerk back in one direction.
I found around 1 minutes 20 seconds for the 2 foot slider with a 30-40% speed ramp to be about perfect. Nice speed of movement, not too fast, not too slow and a nice long pause at either end as I didn’t want the slider to change direction within a shot.
Of course if there was a long answer and the slider changed directions during it then it would be very subtle anyway but most likely I would cover one of the directions with the master wide shot.
I lit dad with a Cineo Lighting Tru Color LS Remote Phosphor LED light as the main key. These lights are stunning. Amazing quality of light, bright if needed but dimmable. You change the colour temperature via the phosphors you put in front of the LED. The main ones I have are 3200K, 4200k and 5600k. I used 5600K throughout. There was some additional fill coming from the windows near where the light was from and some light coming in behind dad from another window.
We didn’t get the whole interview done in the morning so we had to break for lunch and as it was UK mother’s day on Sunday we went out to eat. After all I was making a documentary about dad on mother’s day! She was totally fine about it though!
By the time we got back ,of course the light was drastically different in the room, way darker. So I made some adjustments to the key light brightness, added some practical decoration light at the back of the room and tightened the shot so I could put a kicker on top of the book case. Again I used a Cineo Lighting Tru Color, this time their little Matchstix on a gorillapod sitting on top of the furniture. Lovely lights indeed!
It was a pain having such different light for the shots but expected given we broke for almost 3 hours! So, a fair bit of work in the grade helps (huge thanks to James Miller for his LUTS) and it’s not bad. Although I am absolutely going to go back to it and make it perfect. I rarely let these things go so easily!
I did some additional work with Colorista II and Film Convert as always! Discount codes for both in the below banners.
Audio was originally going to be my Sanken Cos 11 wired lav mic. I don’t like using wireless mics unless I will see a cable. Why risk interference or break up? Therefore for this it would be silly to use wireless BUT I forgot my XLR and the Sanken’s cable wouldn’t stretch. Luckily I had my Sony Wireless UWP Mic with a RODE lav mic on it instead of the standard Sony one which sounds much better.
Audio was plugged straight into the F55 XLR port and the A7s scratch/ sync sound was simply the internal mic there, good enough to sync the manual claps in post.
So away from the technical stuff then what did I ask? What did I want from this film? How long should it be? All important stuff.
I wasn’t quite sure when I started this what it would end up being. I just wanted to get the interview in the can. We probably spent about 3 hours or so filming the interview. I didn’t want my voice heard, this was my dad’s film after all and I just wanted to hear his words so that meant he had to convey what the question was in his answers often…it took a tiny bit of coaching but he got the knack of it pretty quickly.
He was very serious most of the time, I wanted to try to get more of his humour across but I think that when he started remembering emotional stuff that made it much harder for him to switch to the light-hearted dad I know. I was surprised just how much some of his recollections made him emotional. Although I have seen my dad tear up a couple of times in my life it’s been rare. This I found hard whilst doing the interview. I didn’t want my dad to cry but I didn’t want to interrupt him.
Some of the questions are asked were simple background questions. Where his family are from, where he was born…that sort of stuff. There was quite a lot of this in the first part of the interview, he basically went through large chunks of his life briefly and without any real detail for me to connect to. He needed a bit of time to get used to be interviewed and we had time.
I barely scratched the surface really, 3 hours to cover a life is not a lot of time. That’s why I decided to make two films. One was about the man, the other one which would be much longer, would be the man & his life. Lots of anecdotes of growing up, his friends, his family, of course stuff about me and my sister, my mum, his work etc…You have to draw a line and say THIS is what this film is about otherwise you would end up with a rambling mess. I did included a couple of anecdotes and stories about specific incidents but for most part they belong in the other edit. It was important to have some in here though.
This being about “the man” I wanted to know what made him tick, so stuff about his relationship with his parents was essential and his relationship with mum and how they met. I put in very little about my sister and I; although we are a massive part of his life I knew that if I went down that road it would become a pretty long section and overshadow other stuff which I didn’t delve into so deeply. There is enough in there as a “taster” for sure…he at least acknowledges us!
The really tough bit comes in the last act. The problems he has had and his battle to beat them and to address his own mortality and what has his life actually meant…has it had any impact on the world in any way? Will he be remembered. None of these are easy questions and certainly if you decided to make something similar leave the tough ones till near the end as they won’t be easy to answer.
I made the decision, despite having a fair bit of video of dad and of course the ability to shoot more stuff, to use just stills to illustrate his story. It’s keeps it clean and simple this way. I will use video and old super 8mm home movies I am getting transferred for the long version of this…for this one, I love just the stills.
If you can do try to make documentaries of your family…don’t leave it too late. You never know how long they have. A friend of mine lost her dad just a couple of days ago really suddenly. It happens. Don’t say “I will wait until I am older”…do it now! Not because I want to panic you into thinking they might drop dead but it doesn’t have to be made at the end of their lives. You can film them many times over the years which would make a lovely record of their life.
Will this 22 minute film of my dad be of any interest to people who have never met him or heard of him? I don’t know. If you watch it all the way through and enjoyed it or at least learnt something about him from it then my job as a filmmaker has been a success. I wanted this edit to be watchable by strangers.
For me personally? This was a wonderful experience. I learnt stuff about my dad, some details about his background and growing up, but mostly I learnt more about who my dad is. I feel very much more connected to him today than I did a week ago and we are pretty close already.
My mum summed it up the best on Sunday when she said after the interview “I love him even more now”.